Broken Wings: Part III

Chapter Nine

Date: July 21, 10039 A.F.
Location: Castle of Lions, Fifteenth Floor,
	  Communication Room C.
	  Arus, Diamond Quadrant.
Time: 1915 STG

"...And that's pretty much what happened." Pidge sighed and shook his head. "Most of it's accurate, well up to about five years ago. Keith and Lance told me the stuff in letters over the years. After that, though, it was mostly drunk duty with Lance."

"Not Keith?" Allura questioned.

"Keith gets violently ill when he drinks." The voice that responded was not Pidge's; it was too raw and low, harsh in tone and resigned in spirit to be the man-child. "Always has, always will. He can't hold his liquor even if his life--or twenty credits--depends upon it."

Pidge and Allura started guiltily at the voice, turning to stare at Lance as he walked into the room. Pidge swallowed and glanced at Allura for support. Allura shook her head almost minutely, and Pidge glared at her, vowing to get her back for putting him in this situation.

"Uh, hey Lance. much did you hear?" Pidge smiled in what he hoped was a disarming manner.

"Enough." Lance sat down in one of the chairs which swung out from the communication station. He smiled a bitter smile at Allura, one that was full of a self-hatred. "So now you know the whole sordid mess that is my life."

"Not quite. I still don't know why you came here with all this...history between you and Keith."

"That's because Sven and those bastards in the GG tricked me into this mission. I didn't know that Keith was the officer in charge until he walked into the room--I was under the assumption that Sven was the OIC. And since it was too late to transfer, I was just sort of...stuck." Lance sighed. "I'm actually surprised Keith and I got along for as long as we have."

"I'm more surprised you didn't transfer out as soon as you could," Allura commented, a little dryly, finding it hard to believe that Lance's reasons for staying were purely bureaucratic.

"Well, you know, what with one thing and another, it was just...easier that I stay rather than have another pilot come out with and learn how to use the Lions all over again," Lance hedged, obviously uncomfortable.

"Besides I learned from Sven that the whole reason that Keith was posted here was for punishment. He never told me what for, but apparently Keith seriously pissed off the Alliance heads."

"Keith? The Alliance Golden Boy? I have trouble believing that." Lance shook his head. He pulled out a small golden ring and looked at it with a mixture of longing and loathing, turning the intricate, gleaming band over and over in his hands.

"That's a beautiful ring," Allura commented, casting desperately for something to make Lance feel better.

"It's not mine," the bitter man replied. He continued to turn the ring, gazing at it intently. When he spoke, his voice was low and almost calm, but falsely nonchalant as if he was striving for that calm. "Oh, by the way Pidge, do you know what 'Tu amo in saecula saeculorum' means?"

"Yeah, I think that's Latin. It means, uh, 'I love you into the generation of generations'. Or to put it more succinctly, 'I love you forever'. Why?"

"No reason." Lance's face became twisted, even more bitter and angry at some unnameable thing as he shoved the ring violently into the pocket of his jacket. Allura looked away, out of courtesy for her friend.

"So, what are we going to do?" she asked. "What's the battle plan?"

Pidge and Lance just shrugged in response. Allura sighed and furrowed her brow, trying to think of what they could do to save their friend. A heavy silence descended, full of dark thoughts and ignored depression. The soft chime that announced a visitor at the door was out of place in this dark atmosphere.

The three of them looked up as the door slid open, wondering who would dare disturb their thoughts, frowns descending upon the Arus soldier that entered. The young woman appeared confused and hesitant, almost apologetic in her manner.

"Pardon me, Princess, but there is someone here to see Captain Keith." The guard smiled and bowed slightly, as if to excuse both herself and her visitor. And when she stepped away, Lance knew why.

"You," he growled low in his throat, hands clenching and unclenching in rage. He was halfway across the room before he realized he had even left his seat, a murderous gleam in his eyes as he advanced towards the stranger. Pidge and Allura hastened to restrain him, struggling to pull him back to the communication table.

The woman who had inspired this homicidal episode looked at the assembled pilots calmly, and as Allura finally took her in, she gasped. It was Lance--female, and a little harder around the eyes, perhaps, but Lance none the less.

"Who are you?" Allura whispered in confusion.

"My name is Aeris Ilyana Tsumetai, Keith's wife. And my son wishes to see his father."


Location: Lion's Mane Inn, Foran St.
	  Asal, Lecub
Time: 1915 STG

Sven reached out blindly for the decanter again, needing the burning pain that the brandy brought. He could still think, could still feel, and that just wasn't acceptable at this point. He needed oblivion, needed to forget...forget...well, he needed forget something; he just couldn't remember what it was he had to forget right now.

His searching hand found the crystalline container, and he raised his head to cast bleary eyes upon the dancing object. With trembling hands, he raised it up, trying to make the multiple cups stand still long enough for him to pour another glass.

A large hand--or were there three?--landed on his own, comforting in its warmth and solidarity. Sven looked up, squinting to focus, the world swimming violently around him.

Maybe I don't need another drink, he slowly thought. The only problem with that was that if he could still think he definitely needed another drink. "Pash ze brandy," he slurred.

"No. No more for you, Sven. If you drink any more, I think you're going to die from liver failure."

"Ahh, c'mon. Jush one more?"

"No." A face swam into Sven's vision, large and concerned. "No more. Come on, buddy. Let's get you to bed before you drown yourself."

Strong arms lifted him up, cradled him comfortably, easily against a broad, warm chest. Sven vaguely remembered being held like this, long, long ago, a soft, deep voice singing in his ear.

"Pappa?" he questioned softly, hopefully. No. Pappa's dead. So who was the other man who had ever held him so, the only person he had ever allowed to hold him so. "Keit?"

"No, sorry. It's just me, Hunk."

"Oh." Disappointed, Sven slumped back down, suddenly very, very tired. He closed his eyes, swallowing bitter tears, hating himself for being so drunk. He was weak when he was drunk. He thought too much, felt too much, knew too much about himself. All the dark secrets, all the hidden parts of his soul sprang out at him when he was drunk, and he could no longer hide from them, keep them away with glib words and false hopes.

His soul gaped wide before him, and it was not a pretty sight.

"Let me down." Sven pushed at the warm chest, writhed in the strong arms, wanting, needing to be released. "Now. Let go!" He was beginning to panic, feeling too constrained, too trapped. "Please..."

The large arms released him, gently placing him upon the floor. "What's wrong, Sven?" One of the large hands reached out to steady him, help him, as he stumbled.

"Leave me alone! Go away!" Sven looked at the twisting, spiraling world with fear, eyes wild and rolling. Everything was so distorted, so strange and horrible. "Go away!"

"Sven!" The hands reached out again, and Sven tried to bat them away, staggering forward with a nauseous feeling in the pit of his stomach, sick at himself, at his actions. Oh God, it felt like he was dying all over again, like he had been run through once more. But this time, there were no friends to save him, to heal him. This time he was alone, he was fighting an enemy that he could not win against; and there were no friends left to who would help him this time--he was abandoned, again, just as he always had been.

And why? Why was he abandoned? What made him so easy to cast aside? Did he have some sort of inherent flaw, something deeply wrong within him that marked him forever as someone who didn't matter, someone who never needed love, or affection, or comfort of any sort? Was he to be destined forever as someone else's trash?

"I hate them." Thrown away forever. "I hate them!" Cast aside. "I HATE them!" Abandoned. Again. Forever. "I HATE THEM!!"

"Who? Who do you hate?"

"Both of them. I hate yew! D'yew hear me? I hate yew!" The pain was being burned away by anger, the alcoholic haze was being burned by his rage, and he stood straighter, eyes angry, soul twisting in hate. "I hate the both of yew! Yew abandoned me first, damn it! Yew left me!"

"Who? Who left you? Tell me, Sven."

"Keit. Lance. Both of them. All of them. They all left me, they all abandoned me." Sven slumped forward, shoulders sagging, his angry energy leaving him. "I loved yew? Don't yew understand that? I loved yew! I have never loved anyone as much as I loved yew."

"What? Who? Keith?"

"No! No, Keit took him away, stole him away." Sven was sobbing now, the salty tears dripping unchecked down his cheeks. "Took him before I even knew what he was taking. Lance! Why did yew leave me? Why didn't yew see? Why?"

Those warm arms folded themselves around him, cradled him against that comforting chest, gentle hands stroking themselves down his back in slow, simple strokes and he whimpered. "Lance..."

"Shh. Shh." Hunk looked down at his sobbing friend, kissed the smooth, dark hair. "Shh. I know. I know."


Location: Castle of Lions, Fifth Floor,
	  Audience Chamber
Time: 1920 STG

Lance glared at his cousin, his betrayer, hands itching to go for his gun and destroy that oh-so-similar face. If only Allura hadn't stripped him of his weapons...

"So, Mrs. Tsumetai," Allura smiled as gently as she could, trying to put the stranger at ease; though truth be told, Aeris was actually making her feel uneasy. "What, uh, what brings you to my planet?"

"I told you. My son wants to see his father. Where is Keith, anyway? I'm surprised he isn't here to give me a...proper welcome. He knew I was coming after all." Aeris smiled, almost viciously, eyes daring Lance to do something, anything. Lance just growled, low and threatening, hands turning white as the gripped the table top.

"He's been...detained." Allura's face was beginning to hurt, the polite, diplomatic smile growing harder to maintain the longer she spent with both Aeris and Lance in the room.

"Too bad. So, Lance, how's life been for you?" The smile on her face grew more vindictive, eyes narrowing to sharp points as they focused on Lance, pinned him. "Everything okay? Been...sleeping well?"

"Why do you care?" Lance rasped out, hate dripping from every syllable.

"Because I'm your cousin of course! I'm supposed to care about my family. And you are family." Aeris' voice trembled slightly, bitterness seeping into her words though her tone was still light. "How does that make you feel, Lance? Knowing that you're related to Keith? Does it make up for the lonely nights, for the lost warmth? No?

"What about your love life? Been getting enough ass since you left Keith? Hmm? I know Keith has been satisfied. Mmm, he's an animal in bed. So strong. So...demanding. Oh, but I guess you knew that already didn't you." Aeris leaned forward, vicious smile pasted across her face and Allura shuddered, glad that expression had never found its way to Lance. "Tell me Lance," she almost purred the words, "do you fantasize about Keith when you're alone? Do you pretend that he is the one fucking you when you're sleeping with your one night stands? Does it make it better for you?"

"Shut up. Just shut up!" Blood was beginning to seep from Lance's palms as they were sliced open by the table's edge. He trembled with suppressed anger, breath coming in heavy gasps. "Why are you doing this, Aeris? Aren't you satisfied yet? You've already destroyed my happiness. Why twist the knife further?"

"Why? Because I've been living in hell for the past five years, that's why!" Aeris slumped back into her chair, face weary and lined, aged beyond her years. "Do you have any idea how horrible it is to live with Keith? Do you know what it's like being stuck in a loveless marriage because of a stupid mistake? Damn it, Lance, if you hadn't run off like that, none of us would be stuck in this mess." She wasn't even bothering to keep the bitterness out of her voice now, every word angry and tired. "Oh sure, it was nice at first. I mean, Keith's a great guy and all, a proper gentleman and all that crap. But it was all so...bland, so proper. I haven't fucked properly in four years! Not since that night, anyway."

"What the FUCK are you talking about? What mistake? Damn it, Aeris, don't play any more fucking games with me, or I swear by Samas' beard that I'll kill you and leave your carcass to the crows."

"Sirao! No need to get so dramatic." Aeris shifted in her seat, glaring at Lance. "Fine. Right. So, that night you ran off for no apparent fucking reason, Keith got completely smashed, okay? So, he was at the bar that we were holding that night's cast party at, and, being the friend that I am, I went over to talk to him. I mean, he was supposed to be proposing right then, you know. I'd even helped him, let practice on me, given him the key to the theatre's metal shop, even let him use my shower! Sirao, this was supposed to be a special day for you two, you know. He was supposed to be doing...well, whatever the two of you do when you're alone. Not in this bar getting totally smashed." Aeris paused intensify her glare.

"That's when he told me you'd given him this note telling him that you didn't love him anymore. Man was he depressed. He supposed to be proposing to you, not getting drunk out of his gourd." Aeris sighed. "Man, I've never seen him so drunk. So, I take him back to my place, meaning only to keep him from doing something stupid like killing himself, and he starts kissing me, and fumbling with my clothes--"

"And you slept with him, and converted him to the straight side, is that right, Aeris?" Lance was too calm, too controlled.

"Not quite. True I slept with him--"

"Why? You knew he was gay! He was my boyfriend, for Laran's sake!" Lance was almost out of his seat and Allura's hand on his arm the only thing keeping him from jumping across the table and strangling his cousin.

"Lance, honey, everybody wanted to sleep with Keith. He was like a fucking God! I sure as hell wasn't going to miss out on an opportunity to jump his bones." Aeris sighed. "I honestly thought that this was supposed to be a one night stand, a pity fuck. It certainly didn't help that he called out your name. That did wonders for my self-esteem. Besides, some healthy sex is by far and away better than blowing your brains out.

"Anyway, the next morning he leaves after I manage to convince him he did not 'force himself on me' and I think that's that. I keep an eye on him for you, make sure he's eating properly and all--hey, I was still both of your friends back then, all right?--and everything's just fine and dandy. Then I go visit my doctor, and what do you know, turns out I'm fucking pregnant!

"So, I go and tell Keith--which was a big mistake--he pulls this 'honor' shit on me, and wham, bam, we're married with a kid. And I spend the next five miserable years trying to convince him to get a divorce." Aeris sagged back into her chair. "Which is why I'm here now. I managed to convince that staight-laced bastard that a divorce was okay and all I need him to do now is sign the papers, take his kid, and I'm free."

"Your just abandoning your son?" Allura asked in shock. "What kind of mother are you?"

Aeris glared at Allura. "A crappy one, all right. Look, you like the kid so much, you take him. He's out in the hall."

"I'll go look after him," Lance said, standing. "I don't think I can take much more of this bitch anyway."

Allura touched him on the arm and gave him a smile, a real one, silently pleading with him to calm down. Lance took a deep breath, sucking in his anger before he stalked out of the chamber, still full of hurt anger--whether it was at himself, at Keith, or at Aeris, he didn't know--but at least no longer ready to murder someone. He leaned against the hallway wall the moment he was out of their sight, body trembling and eyes glistening with tears.

Gods this is so fucked up. He exhaled slowly, dashed the tears away and looked up and down the hall for his cousin's son. When he saw the small figure, his heart almost stopped from the pain.

The boy was beautiful, with Aeris' thin face and delicate bones with that small, upturned nose. He had her hair too, the thick, chestnut mop, fine strands that gleamed in the halogen lights and fell about his small, pointed face in a silken screen. But his eyes...His eyes were dark pools, velvet and gleaming and large, beautiful, expressive portals.

He should have been mine! The flash of jealousy was painful and it forced Lance into motion, forced him to walk down to the little boy, crouch beside him with his most charming smile on his face. "Hey there."

"Hi." The boy had a quiet voice, a reflective voice, and he kept his eyes down, focusing on the toy that he played with, long lashes screening the dark eyes from view.

"My name is Lance. I'm a friend of your father."

"You know Daddy?" The boy looked up, hope shining in his eyes. "Is he here? Can I see him? Do you know that you look like Mommy?"

Lance almost laughed, reminded so much of himself in the rapid questions that were fired at him in Keith's thoughtful voice. "I know. I'm your Mommy's cousin. What's your name?"

"Asher. Can I see my Daddy now?" A small pudgy hand latched onto Lance's jacket, the boy's face imploring.

"Asher, huh." Lance smiled. Figures Keith would name him that. "How old are you, Asher?" The boy suddenly shrank back, shy again as he held up four little fingers. "You're four? Really? You seem so much bigger."

"'ank you," Asher mumbled. He looked back up at Lance, big eyes imploring. "Please, Uncle Lance, where's my Daddy? Mommy said I was going to stay with him for awhile. I want to see him so badly."

Lance swallowed, heart aching at the sight of those eyes. "He...he's away for a little while. But he'll be back."

"Oh." Asher looked down, then held his toy up, a little lion. "Daddy made this for me."

"It's very nice." Lance smiled and sank down to the floor, not even realizing he was crying until one of Asher's little hands reached up to wipe the tear away.

"Why're you crying?"

"No reason. No reason at all," Lance lied. Gods it hurts to see him. It hurts so much more than I thought it would.

A hand touched his shoulder, and he looked up to see Allura smiling sadly down at the two of them.

"She's gone. I just saw her to her ship." Allura sighed and rubbed her face. "Goddess, that was hard. So, what are we going to do with--what's his name?"

"Asher." The boy looked up, confused and Lance smiled at him. "Asher, this is Allura. Allura, this is Asher."

"You're very pretty," Asher mumbled, suddenly shy again.

"Why thank you." Allura kneeled down and smiled at the child. "You're very handsome yourself, Asher. Listen, your Mommy just left--"

"S'okay," Asher interrupted. "I wanna see my Daddy."

Allura sighed. "Keith--your daddy--isn't here right now. Would you like to stay with me until he comes back?"

Asher shook his head violently. "Wanna stay with Uncle Lance."

Allura looked at her friend, mouthing the new title in wry amusement. Lance shrugged and smiled. "It's okay, Al. I'll take care of the little guy."

"Okay. If you're sure about this."

"I'm sure." Lance made shooing motions with his hands. "I can handle it. I'm not helpless you know."

"I know, I know. But if you need any help, talk to Nanny, all right?"

"Yes. Fine. Now go." Lance already had his attention turned back to his new charge before he finished speaking, not even knowing when Allura walked away. Asher looked back up at him, eyes so innocent and curious.

"Uncle Lance, will you tell me about my daddy?"

"Of course." Lance gathered the child up into his lap, smiling at the boy who was so like Keith. I won't fail you in this, Keith. I promise.


Date: July 22, 10039 A.F
Location: ACS Pursues, guest quarters
	  En Route to New Earth
Time: 0430 STG

It was dark throughout the cabin, and silent for the most part. Sven slept the sleep of the drunk, dreamless and empty, drained but restless. He had collapsed the moment they had been beamed to the ship, exhausted by both the still experimental energy transfer as well as the heavy drinking that he had indulged in earlier that night. Hunk was tempted to watch him sleep, rest his hand on Sven's furrowed brow and see if his presence could bring some peace. More, he was tempted to join his friend in sleep, to close his eyes and let his weary body rest. But then the HE had called, and everything must be dropped when HE desired your attention. Hunk swallowed his sigh and turned his weary eyes back to the gently glowing screen and the bulky, shadowed form that sat in a well appointed office a galaxy away.

"But Sir--"

"Are you going weak on me, soldier?"

"No Sir." Hunk looked down, not wanting to meet those piercing eyes even behind the protection of distance. "It's just that, well, he's my friend. I don't feel right--"

"You don't 'feel right'? You weren't hired to 'feel' anything. You are a soldier, don't forget that. You are here only to follow orders. Understand?" Hunk slowly nodded and the man smiled. "Good. Now I know that you're attracted to him, so obviously this has nothing to do with any physical inability on your part. And I know that you know that there must be certain sacrifices made in order to keep the Alliance safe. So what is the problem here?"

Hunk sighed. "It's just that he's in an emotionally fragile state right now, Sir. He's just admitted to himself that he is attracted to men; more, he's attracted to one of his oldest friends. I don't think that--"

"What did I tell you about thinking?"

"Sorry Sir."

"You should be." Though the man's shadowed face never changed, Hunk knew that he was furrowing his brow in thought. "Name's Sven Bjornson, you said?"

"Yes Sir."

"Knew his father. Good man, Hendrick. Shame about his death." The man sighed. "Well. What do you think that this...attraction on Sven's part is caused by?"

"Honestly, Sir? I think that he's attracted to Lance because they are such close friends. I believe that he may believe that he loves Lance because he is confused and frightened about his sudden self-revelation; Lance would be a natural choice in his situation as there is already a basis of deep friendship. He may be confusing those emotions with love."

"If you think that this is so, than it should be no problem for you to capture his heart; and his loyalty. I know that you can be quite the seducer when you wish."

"Thank you Sir. Still, it feels wrong to--"

"I don't care how you feel, soldier. I want you to make Sven fall in love with you. I don't care how you do it, but do it. Have I made myself clear?"

"Crystal, Sir."

"Good." HE paused, and suddenly Hunk felt chilled, knowing that HE was gazing into the depths of his souls. "Remember, Hunk, I own you. You are mine, to do with as I please. You will do what I say, when I say it. Remember that. Now, get to work."

The screen went black, and Hunk sat for a moment, letting his eyes readjust. This felt wrong. Extremely wrong. They shouldn't be able to play with his life like this, tell him who he could and couldn't sleep with. They shouldn't be able to play with his emotions this way, use him so. It was unfair to him, but more, it was unfair to Sven and wrong, and dirty to prey on him when he was so weak, so desperate and confused and needy. It was wrong to prey on him when all of his demons were back to torment him once more. It was wrong, but when had the Alliance ever worried about doing something wrong? When had HE ever been concerned with what was right and wrong?

When the room came back into focus, Hunk made his slow way to the side of Sven's bed, sitting on the edge and gazing down at his friend's pale face. He had no illusions about his desire for the young Swede; even when they had first met, Hunk had known that he was aroused by Sven. And as they became friends, Hunk knew that his attraction deepened to something beyond mere lust. It was not love--he had no illusions about that either--but it was something beyond friendship and pure arousal. To say that his new orders to seduce and capture didn't thrill him slightly, delight him in some selfish and obscene fashion would be to lie. He had been planning to make a move on Sven anyway--at least once Sven was less vulnerable, less desperate--and this would be killing two birds with one stone.

Still, it disturbed him to prey so on a friend that he trusted and respected. He knew that he would do it, no matter how he silently protested the wrongness of it all; he was too much of a soldier to even think about questioning an order. But he would never feel right about it, never feel comfortable knowing that their relationship could be boiled down to nothing more than a strategic move in the grand maneuvering of some distant figure.

"One more thing to drag me down to hell, eh old soul?" Hunk chuckled softly. "Ah well, what does it matter in the grand scheme of things? The lives of a few men are of no consequence when it helps the Alliance."

Sven tossed and murmured, some dark dream breaking through the drunken numbness. Hunk gently brushed his forehead, smiling softly. "Shh. I'm here."

Sven's eyes fluttered open, and he looked up in blank confusion. "Hunk? 'at yew?"

"Yeah. Go back to sleep, Sven."

"'k." Sven's eyes closed, then opened again, an irrational worry clouding their dark depths. "Don't leave me, Hunk."

"I won't. I'll be here. Don't worry, you aren't going to be alone."

"Sleep here vit me tonight?" Sven looked down, cheeks a faint rose as he blushed in embarrassment. "I don't vant to be alone. Not tonight."

"Sure Sven. I'll stay." Hunk climbed into the bed, wrapped his arms around Sven. He wondered if he should be happy or sad that it was proving to be so easy to seduce his friend.

"Thank yew." Sven closed his eyes, breath growing soft and even as he quickly slipped back into sleep. Hunk watched him for a while, breathed in the mix of Sven's shampoo and the alcohol's fumes that still clung to the both of them. He was surprised when a small tear fell on the darkly silken mass; he had thought himself incapable of tears.

Hunk closed his eyes, tightened his grip. "Don't thank me, Sven. There is nothing to thank."

Interlude Excerpts from
Inter species Dating
Chapter Five: Offspring

There are many important factors that go into determining whether or not two species will produce a child, besides the all important genetic base...The longevity of the species is also a key factor.

There are currently four categories for determining longevity...The Immortal races live up to and beyond fifteen hundred standard galactic years...The Elder races live between twelve and eight hundred standard galactic years...The Middle races live between five hundred and one hundred years and this range of life cycle is the most common...The Child races live for only as long as ten years to about fifty years. This life cycle range, as well as that of the Immortals are among the rarest found through out the Universe, though the rapidity in which the Child races reproduce makes up for this lack....

...While it is true that the length of a life cycle has nothing do with the sexual aspect of dating, it does heavily effect the likely-hood of off-spring. Because gestation period tends to vary depending upon the length of a life cycle, it is generally accepted that only 'neighbors' can produce offspring, although the greater the distance between life cycles the less the likelihood of producing reproductive off spring...For example, a Terran, who belongs to the Child races, may breed with a Laoren, who has a life cycle that belongs in the Middle races, but not with an Arusian who is a member of the Elder races. Likewise, a Horas, who lives for roughly twenty years, could reproduce with a Laoren, who lives for a hundred and ten years, but the likelihood of their child being able to have children of their own is only twenty five percent.

...One of the strangest species is that of the Ki'ir-ar. They belong to the Elder races by rights, and are one of the longest living animals known to the Universe. They are perhaps the hardiest race, being able to survive in areas that no living thing has a right to exist in, but lack in numbers because of a strange genetic quirk where both the male and female posses a reproductive cycle. Though the male's sperm is potent in the most of the other species that it can breed with, and the female can carry the child of most of the cross species races that it can breed with, the Ki'ir-ar can only have children with another Ki'ir-ar when their cycles coincide. When coupled with the ease at which female Ki'ir-ar miscarry, it is a wonder that there are still Ki'ir-ar around...

Chapter Ten

Location: ACS Pursues, Sick bay,
	  En route to New Earth
Time: 1915 STG

The doctor was old--one of the Immortal races--and he had seen so many things in his lifetime that very little could surprise him now. Yet, when he saw his patient, he felt his still strong heart stop and wondered if the Good One was calling him home.

He had seen this broken body before--a blink of an eye for him but a lifetime for the boy that struggled against his restraints. He knew the bloody face, the raw body, the clotting stains against porcelain skin; they haunted his dreams, haunted his nightmares. He could still hear the screams of pain as the saw cut through shattered wings, feel the stubbornly conscious boy writhe as his life, his joy was taken away. He knew what the boy's sweat smelled like, his blood and filth and tears. He could still hear the short general's gruff voice, his blank face as he said with a monotonous tone Kill him and I kill you.

The old man swallowed, trying not to breathe in the smell of burnt flesh and blood; it smelled like roast pork and he found himself growing hungry at the stench. Instead, he pulled on a pair of gloves and walked with trembling legs to the exam table where the boy's form was held down by four strong men.

"The slave needs to be patched up," one of the caerulum said casually. "Can't have him dying before we kill him."

The old doctor nodded, trying not to look into the wild black eyes. "Leave him here. I can handle him."

The woman shook her head. "Sorry, but orders are not to let him out of our sight."

"Then watch from the observation deck. I don't care. I just can't have you all standing here and disturbing my work." The doctor glared at assembled caerulum, hoping that the fear he felt couldn't be seen. Haven help him if they discovered the chip, learned what part he had in this foul deception. He had too many years left to spend it in Brig like his compatriot; it did not matter that he had played an unwilling part, did not matter that it wasn't his decision to destroy the boy's life. To the clouded eyes of Justice, guilt and innocence were of no import. All that mattered was blood spilled to appease the public.

The woman considered the proposition carefully before nodding grudgingly and gesturing for the four men to release their hold on the boy's mangled limbs. She pulled out a taser from her pocket and tossed it to the doctor. "If he gets out of hand, just push this into one of the wounds. It quiets him down quick enough." She laughed, low and cruel. "He squirms nice, Doc. I don't think that it will be necessary to use any sort of...anesthesia."

The doctor signaled his understanding before shooing them out of his domain. As the door closed behind them, he breathed a sigh of relief and moved to the already bloody operating table. The boy--what was his name again?--gazed up at him through surprisingly clear eyes, not frightened but rather...distant, frozen. As if he gazed at this reality form another place; a nightmarish place. The doctor placed a finger to his lips--though it was useless, since the boy was obviously too far gone to understand the gesture--signaling his part in this grand conspiracy before flipping the body over in one swift, painful move. There wasn't enough time to be conscious of the boy's pain.

He snatched up his ionic razor, passing the blue light over the bloodiest patch of the boy's skull, shearing the matted, black hair from the skull. He had to work quickly, before the caerulum could reach the observation portal.

He dropped the ionic razor the moment the wound was free of hair, the pale flesh of the skull turning the wound into some sort of horrendous maw, gaping and filled with jagged teeth. He could see the brain peeking through the gap, see where the liquid coolant had leaked out of the hole and down the boy's neck, the acidic solution leaving a burning, poisoned trail in its wake.

This is bad. This is very bad.

The doctor took a deep breath and grabbed the bone saw. He needed to get in there, needed to see the chips. Viciously, determinedly, he cut another hole, pulling the bone free and laying it aside.

Even though he had prepared for the worst, he was not prepared for that which greeted him.

The two precious chips were slag, the metal alloy exterior melting and molding itself into the folds of the brain, turning the grey matter silver; the wiring and delicate silicon interior exposed and cracked, ruined beyond all hope of repair.

The doctor sank back against the EKG machine, heart beating a fast and nervous tattoo against his ribs.

Its gone...Oh Havens, it's gone! He's going to start reverting...and may the Good One save us all when he does.

With trembling hands, the doctor picked out the remnants of the silicon chips, knowing that he held his demise in his hands as he did. It would only be a matter of time before the mechanical viruses, bio-electric machine cells that had been injected into the boy's blood at his rebirth, would die out completely with out the God-chip to replenish them. Then the Terran DNA--the simple strands with which he had used to over-write the boy's true nature, to mutate the mangled form into something that it was not--would be hunted down by the young Ki'ir-ar's white cells, destroyed as the foreign invaders that the were.

Centuries of research, decades of waiting for the perfect host, all those weary hours spent changing the boy, working through the bugs until they had achieved perfection, until they--he--had altered what had taken millennia to create...All gone, destroyed in mere seconds.

He didn't even want to think about what the Memory Inhibitor planted in the boy's frontal lobes was doing, with out it's mate to maintain the brain's electrical pulses.


Deep in blackness Keith descended, the sick light of insanity guiding his way. And as he passed further into delirium, he remembered...remembered all that he had been told to forget.


The Ki'ir-ar roused himself out of the blackness of unconsciousness when he was brought into the medic's tent, carried in along with half a dozen other unfortunate souls. No one noticed that he was not part of the GG, not with so many other blood-and-dirt smeared forms to care for. To the harried rescue teams, he looked just like one more wounded soldier, one more body desperate for medical attention.

It wasn't until they stripped him of the dirty cloth that covered his mangled body that his true identity was discovered, the mangled, stumps of his wings jutting out in stark relief against the blood and muck that covered his body.

The medic working on him at the time shoved his body away with a disgusted cry, face twisted in anger at the deception. "This isn't a soldier," he growled. "It's a damn Ki'ir-ar. Someone's slave must've been to close to the battle and some idiot brought it in here to be treated."

"We can't spare time with the thing. Through it out with the rest of the carcasses," another medic shot back, rushing past with more white bandages and long needles filled with potent pain-killers.

"My son! Where's my son! Where's Ash?" The gruff voice mingled with that of a thousand other desperate voices, would have been lost to the Ki'ir-ar if the owner had not been so close. "Ash!"

"I'm sorry, General Tsumetai. The messengers who sought you out were badly misinformed. We, uh, we thought that the Ki'ir-ar over there was your son, what with the confusion and blood and all. I-I'm afraid that your son is either dead or captured by Hagi-ai guerrillas."

"Ki'ir-ar? My...Ash went out with a Ki'ir-ar. To find his way. Maybe it knows what happened to him."

"Good luck, Sir. That thing is so mangled, I doubt that you'll be able to get much out of it. It's about three seconds away from dying anyway." The medic turned his serpentine head toward the Ki'ir-ar, an angry scowl marring its face. "What the hell is it still doing here? Get it off that pallet now! For Haj's sake, that thing is taking up room that could be used to save a soldier!"

"Wait. Let me talk to it." The gruff voice came closer, knelt down beside the slave, jostling the canvas cot and making the wounded boy groan. "What's your name, boy?"

"Nein...nein appar...No name. No name," the boy whispered out in a voice fast with fever, lilting syllables of his race's tongue sounding sharp and harsh as he gasped them out. "Besari ke'neinshke."

"Masterless." The man, the owner of the voice, looked at him with hard eyes, leaning closer until he was almost face to face with the boy. "Listen, boy, tu almo kevas? D'you understand? Tu almo kevas. Qui appar Ki'ir-ar?" The slave gapped at the man in surprise, wondering at the phenomenon of one of the Owners knowing his tongue. The man shifted uncomfortably and glared harder at the boy, mein dangerous. "Tell me!" he hissed. "Tu almo kevas!"

"Kevas...kevas j'Holar. Ki'ir-ar appar a'Shteru. a'Shteru Keith'an-skai me Kolava der Naish. Kevas j'Holar! Aer mn'Ael-a-ben'shteof."

"Clan j'Holar. What the hell is a Scholar doing in the middle of a battle field?" The man's voice was low, directed to himself. "a'Shteru Keith'an-skai of Clan j'Holar, son of Kolava the sculptor...Aer...That's'Ael...Dark Mountains. a-ben'shteof...well, shteof means violent winds...a-ben...a-ben...Kami, he can't be from the Bloody Crags?" The man sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "a'Shteru...a'Shteru...Wings of Blood? Why does that sound so familiar..."

The Ki'ir-ar reached out a bloodied hand, small fingers gripping the man's rough uniform. "Ein Aldersine! Mishtak bevar, kos ai'besar, li'a-laishka, ein, coras Renstat, a'Shteru, ko'zar el'Garu! Vi Ki'ir-ar!"

The man stared down at him, eyes wide and white. "No. It can't be. Not...not the leader of the Bensai rebellion? He's too young! He can't be an Aldersine yet. He can't be that lost, to call mark himself as one of the Soulless." The man shivered. "'By the souls of my ancestors, by the blood of my enemies, by the winds that carry me aloft, I, killer of a thousand Renstat, a'Shteru, will smite my opposers'. No doubt about it...Only a'Shteru would use an oath like that. Kami, what a find. What a find!" The man stood, grabbed a passing aide, and gestured at the pallet. "Take the slave to my tent. I would have him magicked so that he may tell me what happened to my son." The aide hesitated, caught between the need to obey orders and the need to protest the use of precious magic upon a slave. "Do it!"

"Yes sir." The aide saluted and grabbed the pallet, dragging the canvas sheet with an ill grace. The boy whimpered as the he was borne away, every stone seeming to rip into his already torn flesh, tearing eyes focusing on the man who had spoken his tongue, until he could no longer see him and the despair that had consumed him returned and carried him into the fearful dark.


And then further still, to more pain, more betrayal, more agony as the pulsing heat would not let him rest...


a'Shteru woke to more pain, to the hum of a saw near his ear, and grabbled voice speaking the ugly words of his captor's race. He whimpered, struggled to get off his bleeding stomach, to raise his head from the padded head rest where it was firmly held.

"Alin! Stop! Release me!" he howled, fighting at the bonds that held him.

"Hold him, Onaa, or I may slip and sever his spine. Then all will be lost." One of his captors spoke far above him, and hands clutched his arms, his legs, his head and body, holding him down, pushing him into the padded table. The whine of the saw increased, moving away from his ear, and a'Shteru fought harder to free himself, writhing beneath the grasping hands.

Then the saw bit into his skin, sending rattling vibrations up and down his body, shaking him, tossing him about until he thought his bones would rattle out of their sockets and his teeth would loosen and fall from his mouth. For a moment his struggles stopped, as pain more intense than anything he had ever felt before overwhelmed his mind.

Then he realized what they were cutting and he screamed.

My wings! No! My life, my blood! Don't take them away! Don't take away my air, my reason for being! Don't take away my protection, my speed! a'Shteru wailed within his mind, breath coming shallow and fast, as that which was most important to him was cut away. Take my manhood, my heart, my life, but not my wings! Leave me my wings! He could feel his heart slowing, feel overwhelming panic seize him as the first of his wings was cut away. He was hyperventilating now, retching as his beautiful wings were hacked off; how would he live now? How would he escape from those that would kill him? How would he hunt, with out his wings to take him above his prey and send him speeding down to capture it?

He was choking, heart stopping and starting as the second thump signified the loss of his other wing. He could feel death creeping up on him, see k'Elava, the Dark Angel, come to take him back.

So busy dying was he, that he never even noticed when they flipped him on his back and drove a needle into his heart, never even noticed when he began to breath again, heart pumping blood again.

"Quickly, bring the inhibitor." A woman's voice, velvet steel, commanding. "We must block his memory while we still have the chance."

"B-but Kyoko, what about all the information he has? What about all the knowledge of the rebellion he carries?"

"Would you rather have him die, Onaa? Now, do it! Doctor, is the chip ready?"

"I must warn against this action."

"I don't care what you think. Just put that chip in his head and lets get on with it."

What's taking so long? I should be dead by now...

Another buzzing, another teeth rattling shaking, shorter this time, less agonizing. Then a brief pressure and something began to eat at his memories, strip him of his soul, of who he was. And then, two more pressures, and a sudden chill. Then, a prick, and there were suddenly hundreds of thousands of things crawling beneath his skin, eating him alive.

He wasn't even aware that he was screaming until he stopped.

Darkness circled around him, taunting him with its nearness, teasing him by staying out of his reach. And as the darkness crept even closer, his captors spoke, distant and reedy.

"Keith'an." The gruff voice, the voice that he once thought his savior. "Vengeance. A fitting name. Well, then. Welcome to the world...Keith."


Keith screamed in his mind, and nobody heard him. He was lost, lost forever, shattered beyond repair as everything he knew was shattered, gone forever.

He was no more.

He was nothing.

And the demons within laughed.


The old doctor didn't want to know what the boy was dreaming of, what horrors his mind concocted; worse, he feared what the boy remembered. There had been too many lies fabricated, too many false memories whispered to him to let his mind rest easy now that they were being stripped away.

The boy twitched and moaned under his knife, though whether from the pain of being operated on without anesthesia, or from the terrors of his imagination, he didn't know. All that mattered to the old doctor was that he kept him alive, kept him breathing and moving.

It was early the next day by the time he stopped, covered in the red blood, wearied beyond belief. He stripped off the gloves, removed the stained and sticky green scrubs, planning to incinerate them. The Ki'ir-ar floated in the viscous green regenerative gel, body a mass of neatly sewed wounds and shiny new skin, and the old doctor sighed as he watched him twitch. He longed for his bed, but his work was not yet done tonight.

With weary steps he descended deep into the ship, smelling the blood on floor and the walls. His hand caressed the small, steel tube that rested heavily in his pocket. So it has come to this, then. He sighed again, rested his forehead against the cold wall of the brig, dreading what he had to do next.

Keying the door open, the doctor slipped into empty, desolate chamber, eyes drawn to the single occupied cell and the two forms huddled on the floor. Why did I ever make this promise?

"Onaa." The doctor's voice was rough and harsh. The former general looked up, face lined and scared.

"Who? You?"

"I have come to fulfill my promise." He slipped up to the glowing bars and handed the tube to the Japanese man. "It's not quite a Katana, but it will do."

Onaa nodded and flicked the small button on the steel tube, sending the laser blade sparking into the air. He waved it once, twice, testing the heft and weight, then nodded slowly. "Thank you my friend." He bowed, then shook his wife awake.

"What? Onaa?"

"It's time, Kyoko."

The woman nodded slowly, standing up slowly. "I understand. Keith?"

The doctor shook his head. "I'm sorry. They are guarding him too closely."

"Well, perhaps it is just as good. He would not approve." Kyoko sighed and placed a hand on Onaa's arm. "Are you sure that this is the way?"

"It is the only option left." Onaa kissed his wife tenderly. "I will see you on the next plain."

Kyoko nodded and kneeled, head bowed. Onaa took a deep breath and hefted the sword. His arm rose once, then descended quickly, slicing through the air with a keen whine. Kyoko's head fell with a soft thump, cut cleanly through. Her body followed soon after. Onaa looked up, saluted once with the gleaming sword, then ran himself through. His body fell beside his wife's blood mingling in a black pool. The doctor shook his head and turned off the electric field, slipping in to retrieve the sword.

Seppuku. What a waste.

He turned and walked away, shoulders bowed with heavy thoughts.


Seppuku: An ancient Japanese tradition, that has long fallen out of disuse. Performed to restore honor, this act of ritual suicide usually involves two people, the one whose honor must be restored, and his second. The ritual is performed as follows. The one who has had their honored sullied kneels and, with a tanto knife, disembowels himself, first by slicing across his stomach, and then pulling the blade upward. The second stands behind him with a katana, and, after the first has been disemboweled, they cut off his head. The second then kills them self, usually by slitting their own throat. This rite, originating in Feudal Japan on Earth Prime, is only performed by true traditionalists.

Chapter Eleven

Date: August 6th, 10039 A.F
Location: Execution Arena, 1003 Columbus Ave
 	  Kulala City, Alliance Island
	  New Earth, Priman quadrant.
Time: 1200 STG

The day dawned with a strange brightness, a burst of warm light that bathed the execution block in a mockingly cheerful glow. The noise of saws and hammers had dominated the normally quiet neighborhood for the past two weeks, but no one begrudged the discord. After all, it was a public execution was a rare event these days; fewer and fewer Ki'ir-ar were being captured of late and the viscous inhabitants of the Alliance were anxious for some form of retribution.

By seven, the crowd had overflowed the stands and now stood packed tightly together, waiting patiently for the condemned. Around the Alliance a general holiday had been called and those who couldn't be there to watch the Ki'ir-ar's death in person flocked to their vid-screens, eyes glued to the gruesome replay of this particular slave's deeds. They were entranced by the destructive power of this one Ki'ir-ar, and those who possessed Ki'ir-ar slaves of their own vowed to punish them further for their kinsman's deeds.

The images flowed in a constant stream; horrible images of this black haired, bloody-winged destroyer swooping down with foaming mouth to tear at Alliance soldiers. The damnable images created an unnatural beast out of the condemned, showing him as indestructible, replaying footage of the Ki'ir-ar taking a chest full of bullets and still raging on; of the slave foaming blood red, chest and jowls drenched by the thick red liquid, eyes a deep abyss of insanity.

Back and back the images went, circumventing the flow of time to show the Ki'ir-ar growing younger, his powerful body shrinking and collapsing into the lean form of a child. His still chubby arms wielded the too large sword with dangerous grace, his oil-black eyes still gleamed with some emotion that the comfortable citizens couldn't possible understand; they couldn't understand loss like his.

All they cared about was how many people he had killed.

When the appointed time finally arrived, the people that crowded the stands filled the air with their hooting cat calls and rotten produce. Their bloodlust was up, the mob demanding a kill, his life for the lives of those that had been lost. It was not safe to be a slave today, and those few Ki'ir-ar whose masters had brought them to the arena cowered in fear. Their wide, wet eyes peered at the mob in fear, mouths opened in mute cries, wings ruffled and unsettled by the hatred of the crowd. When the slave finally appeared, however, the crowd went silent; though whether it was a hostile silence or awe at the Ki'ir-ar's bearing none could later tell.

His naked body gleamed in the bright sunshine, slick from the oil that had been poured over him; an assurance that when the flames licked at his feet he would blaze bright, strike fear into the hearts of all Ki'ir-ar that they might share his fate. The deep, black eyes gazed at the crowd in mute sorrow, almost contrite if the tears that brightened them held any truth. Though he kept silent, he pled with those that howled for his blood, begged them to understand his sorrow. The black wings that weighed heavy on his shoulders, bowed him down under the weight of thick wood and badly died feathers, sagged and fluttered with every movement, stretched out in a mockery of flight; yet another assurance that this slave would flame. For one long, breathless moment it almost seemed as though he reached them, made them understand that he was not someone's property, that he had feelings too; and that he did not deserve to die so.

Then the first stone was thrown and the silence was broken. The Ki'ir-ar bowed his white, shaved head, trudged down the cleared isle with slow, sorrowful steps. There was no grace to his movements, no beauty to his tread. This was the walk of one condemned, the slow, shuffling, stumbling walk of one who sees his death before him; sees it all too clearly and knows that there is no escape. Beyond the metal barrier the mob roared and shouted obscene things at him, pelted him with garbage and stones; with metal shards and wooden chunks gathered from the building site days before. It was a sickening display, one that any thinking being would be ashamed to admit to being part of; yet all those who were not there could only feel envy stirring them, envy for those people who had managed to purchase those coveted places at the execution.

Up onto the raised platform the Ki'ir-ar was led, made to stand on a metal block already burning from the heat. His back was pressed to the steel T, false wings attached to ends of the piping, body bound with barbed wires, the small spikes creating tiny flowers of red that bloomed and trickled down his oiled body. Around his neck they slipped a piece of thin wire, its pointed ends fixed to the metal rod that held him upright. Meant to be humane, the wire was supposed to cut the victims throat as they writhed on their living pyre; in truth, there wasn't enough room for the victim to slit their own throat, and all the wire did was prolong the agony, slice thin layers from the victim's throat to spill blood that sparked and burned in the fire below.

The executioners stepped away, not even hooded for their gruesome task. No the soldiers had fought for this honor, warred amongst themselves for this position. Chests puffing in pride, the executioners grinning approvingly at the barbaric nature of their task, strutted to the stairs and down from the giant pyre to stand at perfect attention, waiting to send their creation aloft in a roaring, angry blaze.

Nodding in satisfaction, the Prime Minister of Earth walked to the podium set up for him with a self-important strut. He raised his hands, giant screens that floated behind him mimicking his movements, and the crowd fell into an expectant silence. The Prime Minister cleared his throat, shuffled his papers and granted those who watched him--both those before him and those who sat glued to their vid-screens--with a self-righteous smile.

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me you ears!" The crowd roared their approval of his purloined line and the Prime Minister's smile widened as he began to tally these future votes. "I stand before you today to tell you the deeds of this Ki'ir-ar slave; this beast who waits to die. I come here to tell you what heinous crimes this thing and those who own it inflicted upon our glorious Alliance.

"This thing was sent out amongst the innocent populace armed; it was allowed to operate a spacecraft of as yet unmeasured power; it willingly cut off its wings in order to pass for a Sentient being; it was placed in a position of power and trust, allowed access to important, Top Secret documents; it lied, cheated and killed its way into our graces and trust; worse, this Ki'ir-ar, this foul beast was the creature responsible for the revolts that occurred on Nemai only a few years ago--our allies, the Renstat, are still recovering from its attacks on them.

"My friends, my dear, dear friends, I tell you this now because I ask you for but one favor; those of you who posses slaves of your own, do not take your anger out on them. They are innocent of this one's crimes, of its masters crimes. We punish this Ki'ir-ar alone today, punish it for the crimes that both it and its masters committed, for the two who allowed this to happen are dead and we may not kill them as well. But this Ki'ir-ar is just one isolated incidence. I am sure that those Ki'ir-ar owned by yourselves are safe; they wouldn't slaughter your family in the night, rape your children, kill you the first chance they get. No, I am sure that your Ki'ir-ar are good creatures, that such acts would never cross their simple minds."

The Prime Minister smiled at the angry, worried murmuring that swept across the crowd. Foul things. They deserve everything they get. He glanced at the bound Ki'ir-ar waiting for the agony of purifying flame, frowning at the lack of movement. Damn thing had better not have passed out or slit deeply enough to have bled to death already. I need it screaming and writhing if I want to win the next terms elections. He glared at the executioners and jerked his head at the Ki'ir-ar, silently ordering them to cheek and see that it still lived.

"My fellow Sentients, I ask you today to think about what the Ki'ir-ar represent to our society. More than slaves, these Ki'ir-ar are the epitome of all that is evil, and a symbol of the grand purpose of the Alliance; to chain that evil down, teach it the proper ways of behavior. As our ancestors stated, oh so long ago, 'It is for the Good of their People that they are Enslaved for, if left to their own devices they would surely Destroy themselves'. So it is for the Good of the Ki'ir-ar, for the Good of the Alliance that we execute this savage beast--"


The Prime Minister paused, surprised that anyone would have the audacity to interrupt his speech. He leaned over the podium, glared at the crowd, tried to pick out the speaker from the faceless mass that was before him. "Who said that?"

"I did." A ripple shook the crowd as the speaker forced her way forward, golden hair shining in the sun. She mounted the podium and none moved forward to stop her, her form and face stamped with such regal features, bearing imbued with such grace, such nobility, that none wanted to oppose her. Her escort of two trailed behind her, one but a small boy, the other a lithe and somewhat shifty looking male; but even this mar served only to heighten her noble grace. "I spoke, as is my right."

"Who are you?" The Prime Minister spat out the words, face dark with envy.

"I am Princess Allura Arai, acting-ruler of planet Arus, and head of the Council of Five, as was written down by our ancestors. And, as stated in the second article of the Alliance Constitution, I exercise the right of the First Seat and buy the bond of this slave. I refuse to allow you to execute him." Allura gazed coolly, nobly at the Prime Minister, daring him to challenge her power.

"Y-you can't do that!" the Prime Minister protested. "This slave must be burned! If he's allowed to live, than he will be a symbol to all Ki'ir-ar that they may break all the regulations--which were created to help them--without fear of retribution! Besides," here his eyes narrowed to suspicious slits, "how can we possibly know that you are who you say you are?"

"Oh I am who I say I am." Allura smiled, more a thinning of lips than any actual sign of amusement. "I realize that it has been a long time since any member of the Arusian government was able to take their proper place at the head of the Council, but surely it hasn't been so long that the power of the Arusian seat has been forgotten. Besides, I believe that the time has come to remedy that mistake; Arus has several...concerns about recent developments that we must discuss. I am taking Keith--the Ki'ir-ar--into my custody and I demand that the Council convene tomorrow to discuss the continuation of the Ki'ir-ar enslavement. This barbaric charade has gone on long enough. Pidge, Lance," she nodded to the two men, "take him back to our quarters. And for the Goddesses' sake, get those wings off of him. As for you," her regal expression barely changed but the Prime Minister cringed away from the contempt that was in her eyes as if it had been a real blow, "I expect to see you--and the rest of the council members--tomorrow morning at oh-ten hundred. We will have a long day ahead of us tomorrow; I don't recommend being late."

She stepped from the dais, walking--no, gliding--through the crowd, safe in the fragile bubble of her noble bearing. She moved calmly, collected and focused, to where her escort stood supporting the oil slick Ki'ir-ar. Blue eyes sad, she gently brushed the Ki'ir-ar's face, hand trailing down his arm in a comforting fashion.

"Oh Keith," she whispered, "what've they done to you." Straightening, eyes suddenly harder, she raked her gaze across the silent and stunned crowd. "You should all be ashamed of yourself. Come, let's get out of this place before I do something I know I'll regret."

Her back straight, face hard as granite, she stalked away from the now useless pyre. The escort trailed behind, fox-faced youth cradling the Ki'ir-ar to his chest in an almost possessive manner. The Prime Minister watched them go, felt his soul chill as he watched them lead off the Ki'ir-ar. This does not bode well. This doesn't bode well at all.


Kill them! Kill them all! Watch their blood run down your hands! Kill them! Wreck your vengeance upon their weak forms, exact your revenge from their flesh. That which was taken from you must be given back in kind; kill them!

Keith shuddered at the words that sang through his mind. He flexed his hands, still struggling to accustom himself to the lost familiarity of his true form. His talon tipped fingers were still clumsy, the razor edges still cut him every time he tried to do something--anything; the extra joints in his feet that had painfully regrown during his two week immersion in the regenerative fluid made walking difficult; even his perception had changed, grown sharper until all the world was seen in stark detail and that which lay beyond his 'normal' sight was clearly seen. Worse, he kept expecting his wings to catch on something, walked as though they were still there, flexed the missing muscles that would have caused them to unfurl with unconscious thought. The disappointing shock that there were no longer wings there hurt more than anything else, any of the other adjustments his misshapen body underwent as it returned to its original state.

But even all this was pale in comparison to the changes wrought within his very mind. It was so hard to mesh his two lives, to make such separate existences merge into one. They warred within him, demanded two separate things--and in the end, split him in two, creating a new persona that exalted in blood and death, in the destruction of the Alliance and the death of all that stood in the way of revenge. a'Shteru. The Bloody One.

Burn them, freeze them, fry them alive! But kill them, kill them, our enemies must die. You betray us, you betray them if you let the false ones live. We are Keith'an-skai; we have given ourselves to revenge. You cannot escape that; you cannot flee from this fate! Throw off your weak chains! Rise again as one strong and proud, one who can see the evil of those around him. Kill them...kill them all.

Keith shuddered, drowned under the sudden rush of new memories, of old injustices and old pains brought back into the light. He screamed in his mind, struggled for some sort of purchase in this slick descent downward, spiraling into insanity.

And as he fell, a'Shteru rose, borne upwards on wings of blood.


Location: Arusian Consulate, 1532 Kissinger St
	  Kulala City, Alliance Island
	  New Earth, Priman quadrant.
Time: 1230 STG

Allura sat down carefully at the table, kept her gaze steady on the person opposite her. Even though he looked like Keith in outward form, there was something wrong; there was something off in the way he held himself, the way he sat, tilted forward to compensate for the bulk of wings--something that would never trouble him again. He seemed ill at ease, awkward in a body that should have been familiar to him. His lack of grace, his lack of comfort in his own form, was disconcerting to say the least. But more so were his eyes, too sharp and gleaming with a mad intent. They pinned her, pierced her, raked over her soul and dismissed her. They made her feel small and weak, worthless, worse than scum. And they promised her death, full of laughing blood and pain.

Shuddering, she took a deep breath. "Keith-"

"Don't use that name." Keith glared at her, coal-black eyes hard. "Don't speak to me in such a weak tongue."

//Fine. Friend, then.// Allura formed the almost forgotten words slowly, vaguely remembering the lilting, singing tongue. //I come to you in peace. I threaten not the lives of your Aerie, nor wish harm upon your Nest and Clan. Peace be to you, Kreiger.//

//Who are you that speaks my tongue? Tell me, Oh Despised One, what business you have with me.// Keith smiled coldly, voice as hard and mad as his eyes.

//I am a friend and I have come to offer you assistance, as is the custom between friends.//

//You are no friend. a'Shteru has no friends. All I have are enemies.// Moving faster than he should have, faster than the ill ease with which he had sat should have allowed him, he leapt across the table, one taloned hand gripping Allura's throat tightly. The razor ends bit lightly into her skin, dots of bright red blooming and staining the tips. //Tell me, you pathetic groundling, why I shouldn't kill you right now, burn you alive as you planed to do to me. Or perhaps I should slice your pretty skin into ribbons for the Nestlings to play with. I would think that your blood looks just as bright when spilled as mine.//

//You shall not kill me, a'Shteru.// Allura looked calmly into those mad eyes, though it chilled her soul, not flinching even when the talons dug deeper into her throat.

//And why not? You are of Arus, are you not? You are one of those who enslaves my race, kills my children, murders the weak and old, and shames my people into acts of depravity. You are one of the progenitors of my people's ills, one who created the Shi'ban, one who steals the voice of my race and works them until they die, too early in their lives. You should die like them, sent out to the mines to spend your days locked away from the blessed skies and buried beneath the cold, unforgiving earth; or out in the fields with your wings clipped and your back bent and scored by the robot's bloodied whip; or chained to carriages that draw your pathetic Alliance into the air; or left with no control of your own body, used for foul sex by any who desires a quick fuck, face painted like a doll's and mind trapped screaming within a soulless shell. You should experience all these things, live them, die them, until you know what it is to be a Ki'ir-ar; what it is to be a slave.//

//Think you that these grievances, this pain is yours to bear alone? I feel the injustice keenly, hear those silent screams resonating in my soul. Your people are mine, your woes my woes, your pain my pain. I am Allura-thegn, who can claim blood-line to Hashar-kesal, the First of us. I claim status of clan m'Xaoga, descended from Feur-kai, Marak-lai of the Ja'hosh Ki'ir-ar. Though you may wish to kill me you may not. None can harm those of the line of Marak-lai.//

//You? A Marak-lai to be?// a'Shteru gave a short bark of laughter, tightened his grip. //Your form belies your words, Quizha klai. You couldn't ride the winds even if your bones were ground to dust and tossed into the sky. You cannot escape the pull of the Earth, no matter how hard you try.//

//I may not bear wings, but neither do you. I am of a blood purer than yours, a'Shteru, though my outward appearance may not be that of a Ki'ir-ar. If you doubt me, than look and let your doubt be appeased.// Moving before a'Shteru could react, Allura rolled up the sleeve of her dress, dispelled the illusion that covered her lineage. The dark blue lines that wound and twined around her upper arm in a pattern of wind and power bled through quickly, emblazoned brightly against her pale skin. a'Shteru took them in, growling in doubt, refusing to believe what he saw before him.

//No. It cannot be. Why would a Marak-lai breed with one such as your people?//

//Why doesn't matter, a'Shteru. All that matters is that they did and my words are true. So release me now.//

a'Shteru loosened his grip, bringing his bloody claws down. With an ill-grace he stalked back to his seat, threw himself down into the chair with a tense ease. He glared at Allura, openly discourteous, flexing claws digging deep gouges in the table. Allura ignored him and replaced the illusion that disguised her Ki'ir-ar heritage; she looked up once the lines were covered, coolly meeting a'Shteru's mad glare. The silence weighed heavy in the room, uncomfortable and cloying, and a'Shteru was the first to break.

//So. You speak true. What do you want from me then, Ojo?//

//To help. Though you may not be my friend, a'Shteru, Keith was and I owe it to the bond we shared to help him--even if he is gone.//

//Keith?// a'Shteru shuddered, sucked in a deep breath, blinked in confusion. He sagged forward, body drained of that tense mistrust, face losing the sharpness that had aged it so. The mad light in his black eyes slowly receded, dimming until it was nothing more than a tiny spark. He looked up slowly, lost and confused, suddenly looking so young and vulnerable. "Allura? What are you doing here? Where am I?"

"Keith?" Allura leaned forward, unsure if she should be glad that her friend was back or afraid for his sanity. "Is that you?"

"Of course. Who else would it be? Where am I, Allura?"

"You're in my apartments in the Arus Consulate. Are you all right?"

"No." Keith shuddered, face flickering between the hardness of a'Shteru and this suddenly open softness. "Allura, I need help. He's in there, in the back of my head, telling me to kill everything. He wants to destroy all that he sees, make the rivers of every planet run red with the blood of the inhabitants and turn the earth barren until nothing can grow." Eyes bright with tears, Keith turned his face up to Allura, begging, beseeching. "You have to help me. You have to kill me. Everyday he grows stronger, even though I'm growing more accustomed to this body. Everyday he tortures me with new memories, new pain. It--I can't control him, can't make him go away."

"Keith, I'm not going to let you die. You mean too much to me; besides, this injustice can go on no longer." Allura cautiously crossed over to Keith's side of the table, knelt down and placed one delicate hand on his arm. "I need to ask you a few questions. Is that okay? Do you think you can tell me what I need to know?"

"Allura, you don't understand! I can't let him stay! I--Oh Gods, I'm remembering things that belong in the dreams of the insane. Please, Allura, you must help me. I can't--" Keith stopped, closed his eyes, breath coming in short gasps. "He...he says it's all right. I don't...I don't know why, but for some reason he respects you."

"All right." Allura hated herself for doing this, but it was necessary; she had to do this. "Would be easier to answer the questions if I asked them in Ki'ir-ar?"

Keith nodded sharply, jerkily.

//All right. Tell me, Keith, how old are you?//

//That depends. Keith has been around for fifteen years; everyone thinks he's twenty-two. He...a'Shteru has been around for almost all of this body's existence; thirty-two years. But this body was, technically, born in the first minute of the first day of the first month of the first year of this millennium.// Keith smiled sadly, gazed down at his hands. //I would have been the best Jao'xai seen on Nemai in generations if the attack hadn't happened. Now there is too much blood to every follow that destiny. How can I create peace when I'm at war myself?//

Oh Goddess, he's barely a fledgling! He should be sheltered in a Breshav-Aerie, not killing already. Especially if he's destined to walk the path of a Jao'xai...

//A Jao'xai? If you were destined for that Cosan, how did you become a Kreiger?//

//I am the Keith'an-skai, Allura-thegn. I am the only member of clan j'Khan, the only one who worships Anai.//

"You follow the Destroyer?" Allura stared at Keith in shock; and no small amount of fear. "Why?"

Keith ignored the question, too intent on his hands, that same, sad smile on his face. A pale light glowed between his cupped palms, coalesced into a delicate bird of purest white, so perfect in illusion that it seemed to come alive, to transcend that barrier between mirage and truth. //It would have been nice to bring joy.//

And in his hands the bird cried.


Excerpts from transcript
Talk With the Condemned
Subject: Keith S. Tsumetai,
a.k.a, a'Shteru, Ki'ir-ar of Nemai

Q: The Ki'ir-ar appear to have no visible economy. How, exactly, does your culture's economy work?

K: The Ki'ir-ar culture has no economy that is understandable from an outsider's view point. I believe that the closest thing to the way the Ki'ir-ar economy works is the concept of a Communist society. Each Ki'ir-ar lives in an Aerie--a sort of village--that is almost completely self-sufficient. Everything is made in the Aerie, from armor and weapons to clothing and toys. It's a lot like living in a large family, and everyone works toward maintaining the happiness and prosperity of the Aerie as a whole. It's a mind set, really, and sort of hard to explain. Anyway, because of the clan system there is no real social distinction between Ki'ir-ar; each works the fields, or hunts the land, providing meat and grain for the entire Aerie. It is a great honor to be thought of as a good provider for the Aerie, for if you have provided the most game, or worked the hardest on the land, the feast is in your favor and you become the 'king' of the Aerie for the night. That's a lot of fun.

Q: So if an Aerie isn't a village or town, what, exactly, is it? Where is it typically found, who lives in it...What, essentially, is the
purpose of an Aerie?

K: I suppose that you could call it a commune of sorts. It's the most important thing in the Ki'ir-ar culture. You can't be separate from your Aerie and still be a Ki'ir-ar; this is your life line, your home, family, loved ones, everything. The Aerie takes care of you, watches over you, raises you and heals you and helps you. And, though you may move from one Aerie to another, you're still a part of that new Aerie; and in return for this protection, this comfort, you take care of the Aerie, feed and arm the members of the Aerie, guard the safety of its inhabitants--prepare to give your own life for the well-being of the Aerie if necessary. The Aerie is more important than you are, and it defines
who you are, more than clan or blood-line or any other sort of title.

As for where it's found...well, most Aeries are found in the cliffs of Nemai. This is why we don't have any buildings; those caves and holes that are normally found in a mountain are turned into Nests--um, 'homes' I guess. And if there aren't enough caves, than we make them. However, since most Ki'ir-ar don't like to alter nature, some Aeries can be found in the deepest parts of the forest. There are more 'normal' homes there, although they're usually made from lacing the branches of a living tree together or 'growing' your own Nest in the branches of the tall, old trees by planting and shaping vines and bushes and other types of flora on the branches and in the crannies. Some Ki'ir-ar use the hollow shells of dead trees for their Nests, or use Ground Caves, but those are very rare indeed and never last long as Nests. The inhabitants of an Aerie are usually pretty well mixed between three of the four Cosan--the Clan paths. They're normal people, in general; they hunt and farm and play just the same as any other sort. They pray to their gods and celebrate special days, obey the Laws of the Aerie and raise their brood as best they can. Not all Ki'ir-ar are like those seen on the vid-screens.

Q: So, how does an Aerie work? Is there a leader of some sort? A mayor or governor or something similar?

K: There's no real leader in an Aerie. Most of the decisions concerning the Aerie are made by the Clan Elders and the Aerie leader; that's really just an honorific assigned to the Clan Elder elected to represent the Aerie in the Flock. A Flock is just the name we use for a gathering of Aeries, sort of like a...district or province. The Flock-leader is also elected from the council of Aerie-leaders and sent to the Rein-Aerie, the Royal Aerie. It's one of the two Aeries that isn't set up in a commune, because this is the...hub of the Ki'ir-ar government. The Marak-lai and their family live here, and this is the only 'building' that the Ki'ir-ar have in the traditional sense. It looks a lot like a mountain, but it's really rather different--lots of large halls and open spaces and wide windows to let the wind sweep through clean and unimpeded.

The second type of unusual Aerie is the Breshav-Aerie. It's the place where one learns everything there is to know about his Cosan. It's very similar to the Universities and Academies that are found in the Alliance, save for the lack of 'buildings'. There are four Breshav-Aeries, one for each Cosan, and each area of study in that Cosan is separate and distinct. While it is true that each Fledgling--the disciple of the Cosan--studies mostly that which best suits them, every aspect of the Way is studied, until the Fledgling can say that they have truly mastered every aspect of their Way.

Q: If there is no formal government, than what is the Marak-lai?

K: We do have a formal government; it's sort of like a monarchy, except that there is no true central power. Anyway, a Marak-lai is the Wind Speaker. I suppose he's the 'King' of the Ki'ir-ar, even though he doesn't really fit that title. He's responsible for the larger things that go on in our culture, like the major...trials in our culture, and watching over the Aldersine. He lives in the Rein-Aerie, along with his family, and he's addressed two ways; as 'Marak-lai' and with the suffix 'kai' attached to his name. Those of his line are addressed as Oja/Ojo--prince/princess--or with the suffix 'thegn'. The reason the Marak-lai and his clan are so important is because they are the only Ki'ir-ar to naturally posses all four Cosan. They are the peace keepers of the Ki'ir-ar, and because of the Marak-lai, we no longer have Aerie wars, where one Aerie seeks to wipe out the other. Instead, there are tournaments and contest between the Aeries; which is a good thing, because this tends to satisfy all the blood-cravings.

Q: What
are the Cosan? Are they a type of 'clan'?

K: The Cosan
are the clans. They are the different paths that may be taken by a Ki'ir-ar, and determine what...slot that Ki'ir-ar will have in society. There are four of them: Kreiger (the Warrior clans), Akush'ai (the Scholar clans), Zhiyu (the Healer clans) and the Jao'xai (the Joy Bringer clans). Although this really doesn't describe the different Cosan that well. They're...more complex than that.

The Kreiger, for example, aren't just fighters. They are greatly skilled in
all the arts of war; arms, tactics and leadership. You have to have some skill in all three, even if it's only a minimal amount. They also tend to work alone or in small bands. Kreiger are naturally attuned to each other, possessing a sort of...sixth sense that lets them know another's movements. They have to be skilled like this, because Kreiger attacks are rarely planned. In fact, there is no 'army' in the Ki'ir-ar culture, only banded Kreiger. I suppose you could consider a clan to be an army of sorts, but though there are few clans, the members of each clan are widely spread throughout the Aeries. Kreiger also tend to be in perfect harmony with the world around them, knowing almost instantaneously the advantages and disadvantages of the land they fight on. They also tend to have a...niche of sorts. Kreiger who compliment each other tend to stick together, even if they fight alone. These Celai are very powerful because they are so efficient; true Kreiger can fight together, but Celai have a special bond...a special something about them that makes them particularly fearsome.

Q: And the Akush'ai and Zhiyu and Jao'xai? What are they?

K: Well, the Akush'ai are...scholars in the broadest sense. They're really more like priests, except that the Gods actually answer the Akush'ai. They have a
very personal relationship with their chosen God or Goddess, talking to them personally and bequeathed with great powers because of this relationship. There are as many clans as there are Deities; technically there are thirty clans, for the thirty Heavenly Ones, but because of the war and the capture of our young, there are only...oh, I'd say ten at most. Every Aerie has their own Akush'ai clan--though some Aeries have two--and follow the commandments of their local deity. Still, Akush'ai aren't only there to walk the path to the Gods. They are also the sages of the Ki'ir-ar and posses three gifts: great wisdom, great magic and great sight. Nobody knows what the last is for it's the rarest of gifts; at least in it's true form. Second sight is common, as well as the ability to scry, but Great Sight...that's almost never happened. The Akush'ai can wield the power of Nature and often accompany the Kreiger into battle, to provide an arcane back up. They only have destructive magic, though.

The Zhiyu are the ones that have the healing power. They're the most important member of the Sangsau--the Bloody Triad--since they're the ones that keep the Kreiger and the Akush'ai fit. They are the Tri-healers, the healers of mind, body and soul. Despite being weak compared to the Ki'ir-ar and the Akush'ai, their skills are greatly valued; particularly the healer of souls. It's because of their abilities that there are so few Aldersine, which is definitely a
good thing. They posses the White Magics, the magic of health and renewal, rather than the magics of destruction that the Akush'ai have, and they can heal all wounds that come their way. Of course, the healing tends to sap their life-length, aging them quicker than normal. Also, they take the pain of the wound and the healing into themselves, siphoning off their patients agony and dealing with it themselves. This is why a Zhiyu doesn't heal themselves; the pain is doubled and very few of them are strong enough to handle that. Indeed, it's not uncommon to hear of a Zhiyu dying after a healing. Of course, there are a lot of Zhiyu, and they are well known for the selflessness. They never hesitate to put others well-being before their own.

As for the Jao'xai, well, they're a very special case. This is the only Cosan that has no application to war. The Jao'xai are the Peace Makers; in fact, their name is generally translated into Joy Bringers in the common tongue. They are our...artists. They are the actors, the musicians, the authors, the painters, sculptors, molders of beauty. They
create beauty from everything and are the rarest of all Ki'ir-ar; this is why they are so greatly prized, and why there are very strict laws about their treatment. It's the Jao'xai who make the other clans so fierce, for the Jao'xai are the least combat able of the Ki'ir-ar. They can't defend themselves properly against attacks, and so all the other clans band together to protect them. They are, in essence, peace and it is death to harm a Jao'xai in any way. They are the most beloved of all the Ki'ir-ar and tend to be nomadic so they can spread their joy through out all the Aeries. A Hatchling who shows promise of following the Jao'xai path is greatly prized and is pretty spoiled too, I must admit. They are so skilled at their craft that they can actual stop the blood lust and leave those who see their work or see them perform feeling a serenity that lasts for days. Their skills are threefold as well; skill in written beauty, skill in visual beauty and skill in spoken beauty. They posses the ability to create illusions that are so real that they can make the rest of the world seem like a misty dream, and even the bleakest spirit is calmed by their presence. Because their entire purpose is to bring peace and joy to others, they are the most selfless of the Ki'ir-ar, always willing to sacrifice everything they have and are for the greater good. Even if that sacrifice isn't recognized.

Q: Wow, it seems that fighting is a very important part of the Ki'ir-ar culture.

K: Yes. To fight is to live, to live is to fight. Death, pain, loss--it's all part of being a Ki'ir-ar and being a fighter. We
have to fight, even if it's non-combative. In fact, for the true fighter--no, I'll not say, least I become a Quizha klai. I'm a special case and what I believe isn't necessarily the same thing as what the rest of my people believe.

Q: Quizha klai?

K: False-speaker. That's a major insult in for the Ki'ir-ar. It's almost akin to being called a Trahison--which literally means 'honorless betrayer who hides in the shadows and befouls the winds'.

Q: Why?

K: Well, the foundation of the Ki'ir-ar culture is built upon five basic beliefs: Courage, Truth, Honor, Wisdom and Justice; well, these are the very basics, there are many sub-categories, of course. Anyway, even though there is no real 'hierarchy' of beliefs, Honor is by far and away the most important. Though the joy of the fight and the freedom of flight are the two basic needs of every Ki'ir-ar, above even those is the desire to be Honorable. To be Sans Mei'yo, Without Honor, is to be beyond even the Zhiyu's help. You are scum, you are lower than a worm, stripped of all that is worthy in your life. You are, in essence, completely, utterly, totally and entirely worthless...

Chapter Twelve

Date: August 6th, 10039 A.F
Location: Arusian Consulate, 1532 Kissinger St
	  Kulala City, Alliance Island
	  New Earth, Priman quadrant.
Time: 1830 STG

" certainly seems to be a day for surprises. Not only was the execution of the Ki'ir-ar slave VN-666-873-92, the leader of the slave revolt back in '14, canceled, but Arus has also taken an actual hand in the Alliance. This is something that hasn't happened since 9780. Trust the Arusians to have a flashy entrance, though; their Princess, one Allura Alari, was responsible for the Ki'ir-ar's stay of execution. However, not being satisfied with merely halting a slave execution, she is also demanding that the Ki'ir-ar enslavement be reconsidered by the Council--maybe even abolished. Well, good luck to her. She's definitely going to need it.

"That's not the last of todays shockers, though. Last night, Zarkon, Emperor of the Doom Empire died, leaving his son Lotor as the new Emperor. The first act of the new Emperor was to petition the Alliance for readmission into the Alliance, claiming that Zarkon's defection was the work of a madman and that his planet should be given its old place in the Alliance; his second act was to flee his planet before the angry mobs of Doom-ians tore him apart. His current location is unknown, but it is believed that he's somewhere on New Earth. Not exactly the best way to start one's reign, I would think. There is an investigation pending to determine whether Zarkon's death was from natural causes, as Lotor insists, or from foul play.

"In sports today, the Jackovans trounced the Liranais fifty to seven in the Terran-Haspur grovlack game..."

The V.S shut off with a slow whine, irising to black with much crackling as static danced across the screen. Lance threw down the remote with a sigh, stood and paced restlessly about the small parlor. He felt antsy, nervously wound and anxious do something, anything just so long as it didn't involve sitting here, helpless and bored stiff.

"Stop that." Pidge's voice was filled with a weary resignation; not surprising considering how much he had put up with over the last two weeks. The younger man's nerves had been run ragged since he had 'volunteered' to watch over Lance. His friend had been plagued by constant doubt ever since Asher had been dropped in their laps; and those dark demons had only grow stronger as the days passed on. It had gotten to the point where Lance questioned everything, were even the slightest decision would send him into fits of worry and self-doubt.

It was not pleasant to see the normally cocky pilot fall so low.

Lance sighed and paused near the door to the next chamber, frowning as he listened for the soft, singing words of the occupants. It was beautiful, true, but Lance wished they would switch to basic, wished he could understand their words. But there was no noise from the other side of the thick door, and Lance worried more about this silence than whatever was said in the bird's tongue of the Ki'ir-ar. His frowned deepened and his hand strayed to the door knob.

"Don't even think about it, Lance. She said no one was to disturb them."

Lance glared at Pidge, but dropped his hand back down and walked away. He paced to the room's long couch and dropped down into the depression his body had created in the soft cushions. His hand quested for the remote and Pidge resigned himself to yet another round of channel surfing, pacing and sighing. He pushed his round glasses further up his face, and reached for the text on Alliance Laws that Allura had dug up for him. If nothing else, he could get a jump on some of tomorrows proceedings.

"Sir, you can't!"

Both Lance and Pidge looked up at the shout; then jumped to their feet as the door was thrown open. Lance's hand closed around the hilt of his laser, had it half-drawn by the time the intruder stormed into the room, yellow eyes blazing and white hair disheveled.

"Where is she? Where's Allura?"

"Lotor," Lance spat the name out. "What the hell are you doing here." The laser was fully out of Lance's holster now, trained on the Doom Emperor's head.

"Where's Allura? I must see her!" The blue-skinned Emperor scanned the room with bright eyes, voice demanding and insistent.

"No way, Lotor. I don't care how many Alliance heads you've tricked, but you can't fool me. I know a snake when I see one."

"Lance, put down the gun." Pidge tugged on his friend's arm. "Lotor's on our side."

"Like hell he is!"

"Where is she! Answer me, damn it!" Lotor loomed over Lance, eyes dark and menacing. "Answer me!"

"What the hell is going on out here?" Allura snapped irritably, appearing in the dark doorway to the other room. She glared at the three boys, took in Lance and Lotor staring each other down, Lance's gun still raised, Lotor's hand gripping the hilt of his sword. "I thought I told you I wasn't to be disturbed."

"Allura!" Lotor turned toward the princess, face alight with relief. He started toward her, hand still on his sword.

"Don't. Even. Think. About. It." Lance's gun touched the soft skin behind Lotor's ear, freezing the blue-skinned emperor. "I don't care what sort of bullshit you've fed to the rest of the Alliance, but I trust you only as far as I can spit and that's not far at all. So, why don't you just turn around, walk away and I don't have to blow out your lying brains, hmm?"

"I could have you court martialled for this. You can't threaten the head of an Alliance planet." Lotor stood stiffly, eyes staring straight ahead, voice almost empty of fear--almost, but not quite.

"Well, you'd have to be alive to complain, now than wouldn't you. So, unless you want your brain spread across these rather nice accommodations, I suggest you leave."

"Lance, put the gun down," Allura sighed, rubbing her weary eyes with one hand. The day was just too long.

"Why?" Lance turned toward the princess, thin brow furrowed in anger, lips curled back into a snarl. "He's tried to destroy us! Why should we just let him waltz in here?" He gestured violently with the gun, inadvertently pointing the shining barrel at Allura.


But that was as far as Allura got before something pale and gleaming pushed her aside with an angry snarl. Faster than she could comprehend, Keith streaked past her, all smooth, dangerous, floating lines. With an almost manic fury he leapt on Lance, talons biting into the thick leather of the pilot's prized jacket, hauling the stunned boy high and pressing him against the wall.

"Ne aral tevar Allura-thegn! Ver hasten barak denar!" The singing tones of the Ki'ir-ar tongue sounded beautiful even when Keith was snarling them out, lips pulled back ferally, eyes blazing with a light that was at once beautiful and frightening. Lance gasped as he was shaken, head slamming painfully against the wall, surprised and terribly afraid of the sudden new strength in Keith's arms.

"L-let me go!" he gasped out, teeth rattling as Keith shook him. Through the blur of pain-tears, he saw Lotor approaching, sword already half out, yellow eyes gleaming with a vindictive light. He stopped, however, when Allura laid a hand upon his arm, shaking her head in warning.

Keith shook Lance again, snarled out more words in the beautiful language. "Yahban tsuaral mechal! Bervn asar."

Lance choked on the pain. "K-keith stop. Y-you're h-hurting me."

"Te'ear Allura-thegn!"

"I d-don't understand!"

"Te'ear Allura-thegn! Hasten barak! Ne illar Kevas Marak-lai!"

"P-please, Keith, stop!"

"a'Shteru! Hanaman ver-stafan!" The words sounded vaguely wrong in Allura's mouth, lacking in Keith's lilting quality. They were harsher when she spoke and for some reason Lance felt strangely affronted to hear the words come from Allura--even though what she said was probably saving him.

"Ysar a'zaran! Qi ma yas'den." The talons dug in deeper, piercing his flesh, and then further until they were buried in the warm, wet muscle. Lance whimpered, felt the razor edges scraping on the bones of his ribs with every shaking breath. "Hasan mer xao, Allura-thegn. Ilan t'ushev."

"Fara n'jas, a'Shteru.
Lance eliomn. Hanaman cazar!"

Growling, unwillingly, Keith put Lance down, pulled his talons from their fleshy sheath. Lance moaned and crumpled to the ground, curling in on himself as the lush, red blood soaked through the leather in the ten perfect punctures. Keith stood uncaring above him, eyes hard and filled with psychotic joy. Lance stared up at him with pain glazed eyes, confused, afraid and yet still somehow awed by the changes wrought in his old lover. It was as if all the hard qualities that had marked Keith back when they were just starting out had been exaggerated, magnified until they stood out in painful dominance. The way he clenched his jaw was harder now, his face seemed all sharp, painful angles, his eyes dark coals that sucked away life and light. Seeing him now, without the dark mane to soften his features, his entire body tense and angry, was more painful than the wounds that Keith's talons had inflicted on him. It almost made him want to cry to know that those wonderful, tiny, beautiful soft parts to Keith were gone, burned away by whatever ordeal he had undergone over the past two weeks, and only the hard and raging parts were left.

"Keith..." Lance tried to uncurl, to stand and reach out, pull the hard form into his arms, love him and comfort him until the sharpness blunted, the harsh edges softened. But the pain was too great.

"Zar'galan." Keith spat on Lance, turned away. "Yes marr Allura-thegn?"

"Ba, a'Shteru. Kilan masha goesvan." Allura glared at Keith and pointed insistently at the door to the other room. "Cazar!"

"Xao mai, Allura-thegn."
Keith bowed low, mockingly almost, and stalked past the angry princess a soft smirk on his face.

"Vas hafen, a'Shteru. Lance bev mes carn Seelesorge a Keith." Allura's voice was soft and full of heavy warning. "Isvar mer allarn."

Keith paused at the dark doorway, rigid form trembling suddenly, body seeming to curl in on itself, loosing those sharp edges and turning soft and young, almost child-like in it's hurt frailty. He turned slightly, face open in a strange pain, eyes flicking to look back at Lance's crumpled form. He stared at the frozen foursome, eyes a black wound in his pale face, a gaping, weeping void of dark anguish, mouth working silently. Allura glared at him, face darkened by her anger, muscles trembling slightly.


Bowing his head in submissive acquiescence, Keith slipped into the darkness, the door swinging softly closed behind him.

Allura sighed and closed her eyes. "Pidge, go get a doctor. We need to stitch Lance up. Make sure it's one of the Arusian doctors; we don't want the media to know about this; Goddess help us if that happens."

Pidge nodded and gently headed down the corridor in search of a doctor. Allura walked over to Lance's curled form and knelt beside him. "How bad is it?"

"N-not too bad," Lance stammered. "Just...painful."

Allura nodded slowly and stroked her friend's chestnut mop. "I know. He didn't mean it, Lance. He thought you were threatening me. I don't--" She stopped, hmmed deep in her throat. "Well, he didn't mean it."

"Allura...what the hell is going on here?" Lotor knelt beside his fiancee, confused and angry. Allura smiled at him, cold and humorless.

"Welcome to the Alliance, love. It's a whole new type of war."


He didn't know how long he sat in the semi-darkness, bare skin chilled by the cold wind that swept over it in cycles. He could hear what they were saying about him, hear the angry, sharp shouts as they argued over his fate. He knew that Lotor wanted him dead, heard the newly crowned emperor ranting about how much of a danger he was. And then there was Pidge and Allura's higher voices, protesting, agreeing, arguing. They were fighting over him; even when he wasn't wielding a weapon he caused war. Keith laid his head down on the table, saddened by that thought.

What's wrong with me? Why do I inspire so much turmoil? He sighed and sat back up, gazed down at his hands, at the blood that stained the sharp talons. Oh Gods. I can't believe I did that. I hurt him! And it felt so good. Keith shuddered. It felt so good...So incredible good. But--but I hurt him. I hurt my Seelesorge, my Tamashii. It's his blood that stains my hands, his pain that I delighted in. How could I do it? How could I enjoy digging my talons into him, burying them deep in his chest?

"...destroy him! He's a menace! A monster! Look at what he did to Lance." Lotor's voice floated closer, growing louder as he approached.

He's right. I should be destroyed. Keith sighed again and brought his bloody talons closer to his face, gazed vacantly at the way the dark liquid gleamed in the dim light. I hurt him.

"Lotor, Lance is going to be fine. You heard the doctor. But if you go in there and start threatening him, I know that you won't come out alive. Now come away..." Allura's voice grew strong, then faded, her light footsteps barely audible. Keith sighed and bowed his head, wondered again why they had saved him, why he had once more been pulled away from the brink of death.

Ahh, Anai, once more you honor my vow. The bitter thought floated up from the mad depths of his brain, whispered by a'Shteru who lurked there, drenched in violence and horribly, painfully patient. I don't know if I should thank you or hate you for that.

Stop it. Get out of my head!
You're the one who hurt Lance! You're the one that caused this! Keith howled at himself, angry voice chasing the demons that crouched looming within him.

But I'm also the one who can heal him. a'Shteru grinned in the darkness, called up the memories of healing, the memories of their Zhiyu training. You can take away the pain, Keith. You can make your Tamashii whole again.

What's the catch?
Wary, distrustful of this part of himself, Keith circled around the offer.

No catch. Not really. Do you want to help your Tamashii or not?

Fine. Show me. Keith closed his eyes, took a moment to wonder what he was doing, what he was agreeing too, before standing and slipping out of the darkened room. He slunk along the shadowed edges, silent and unnoticed by the three arguing forms. It was almost too easy to move in this spacious room, with the only ones who could stop him too distracted to notice him even if he had strolled through the center of the room. He almost wanted back those old days when all of his skill as a Kreiger had been tested and he had slunk through the forest and plains of Nemai, striking with swift violence at all his enemies, appearing as a ghost in their midst before disappearing entirely; an apparition of death with snarling, foaming lips and dark, blood-red wings and claws the black of dried blood. Those were the days...back then he had meaning, back then he had a purpose.

Stop it. Get out of there, a'Shteru. I don't care what you think, but I do have a purpose. We have a purpose. And I'm not going to let you kill those I love; even if I have to kill us to stop you.

Keith glared, turned his mind back to thoughts of Lance, slipped past his arguing friends and into the small bedroom. He ghosted across the dark, silent room to the silent form that lay alone in the large bed.

He looks so lost. So helpless...

I could kill him with a thought,
a'Shteru's voice whispered softly. His blood looks so nice...why not spill it? Shame to keep such a wonderful color hidden.


Shaking, shuddering at these thoughts, Keith sucked in deep breaths of the cold air and contemplated just leaving now before the dark demon could get free. He was tempted to just turn around now, sneak back into his room and sit once more at the cold desk. Better this than run the risk of a'Shteru killing his beloved.

Then Lance moaned and turned in restless, drugged pain, one hand moving gently to his bandaged chest. Those deep, pale brown pools fluttered open, long soft lashes parting with the reluctance of lovers ending a kiss. He gazed on Keith's trembling form with those large doe-eyes, unafraid, unsurprised. Just...watchful. Curious.


"Lance...Oh Kami, I'm sorry." Keith slipped forward, knelt at Lance's bedside, one hand straying out to hover above the white bandages that wrapped his friend's chest. "I--I didn't mean to..."

"I know." Lance closed his eyes.

"D-does it hurt?"

"Not much. The doctor's pills help." His eyes opened again, this time hard with an accusing glare. "Why did you do it?"

"I-I don't know." Keith sighed and stood, climbed onto the bed and straddled the other boy. "I'm so sorry."

"Keith, what--"

"Shh." Keith smiled sadly, gently, and placed one finger on Lance's lips, stilling the protest. He reached down, razored claws touching the clean bandages. He caressed them, stroked the white bands gently, then sliced down, cutting through them with quick, neat strokes. Lance gasped as his wounds were exposed to the cold air, sucked in a breath at the strange sensation of prickling pain that sent shivers down his spine. He looked questioningly up at Keith, opened his mouth to speak, but shut it again at the slight shake of Keith's head. Keith smiled again, held out his hands over the dark, weeping holes, closed his eyes and concentrated.

For a long time, nothing happened, and Lance could only stare at the strange sight of Keith with his eyes closed and pale flesh gleaming in the narrow sliver of light from the slightly open door. He shivered, cold and in pain, wondered what game Keith was playing now. Which was why the when the change came it was so unexpected.

At first it was subtle, a faint humming sound that was barely heard--more felt, really. Slowly the noise resolved itself into a distant pounding noise, a drum that was primal and strange. Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Slow. Methodical. Then louder. And louder. Increasing in strength, until the very air seemed to vibrate with the noise. Wild. Exotic. Insistent.

Then there were two of them, beating sometimes as one, but more often than not as two different threads. Ba-da-bump. Ba-da-bump. They wove together, confusing, intricate, compelling. Lance tried to follow the two threads, eyes unconsciously flicking back and forth as if he could actually see the threads. His mouth hung open as the noise claimed him, possessed him.

The threads twined about each other, harmonizing, swelling in tempo, until suddenly they were one, beating together in perfection. Lance smiled, strangely pleased by this merge, by the fusion of the two threads. He cast his gaze up Keith, wondered if the other boy had caught the noise, wondered if he was as strangely moved by the meshing as he had been. But it was immediately obvious that Keith had other things on his mind.

The Ki'ir-ar was surrounded by a blue light, pale and pristine, almost the blue-silver of moonlight on the sea. It shivered and wavered off of his arms, spread itself out into the skeleton of wings, the memory of flight. The light shone brightest on his hands, where it arced from Keith to Lance and spread a cooling, soothing, clean feeling throughout his chest that was only now noticed. Lance gasped at the sensation, found his breath coming shorter at the icy, wonderful, healing burn that claimed his flesh.

Then, suddenly, it was over and the light disappeared with a sudden snap, snuffed out by some giant, invisible hand. Lance blinked rapidly, trying to adjust his momentarily blinded eyes, reached out to touch Keith even as the other boy almost toppled off the bed. He glanced at Keith in worry, frowning at the sudden age that marred the other boy's face; he was weary, exhausted as though he had done some strenuous exercise, and clutching at his chest as though in pain.


"I'm fine. You should probably rest. Though it may not seem so, Healing takes a lot out of both parties. Tell Allura to bring you something with a lot of carbolytes." Keith winced, stood on trembling legs, walked unsteadily to the large bed and the thin figure lying on it. He smiled down at Lance, brushed away the hair with careful gentleness, kissed his cool forehead. "I didn't mean it, Lance. Believe me, I would never hurt you intentionally. Now, sleep." Keith slipped from the room, still graceful despite the drained energy that had come from the Healing, pausing only briefly at the door to steady his weakend body.

And then he was gone and Lance lay alone in the quiet, cold, dark room; alone with only his thoughts as companions.

Interlude Excerpts from transcript
Talk With the Condemned
Subject: Keith S. Tsumetai,
a.k.a, a'Shteru, Ki'ir-ar of Nemai

Q: You mentioned the Ki'ir-ar Gods earlier. Does each God have a sect in every Aerie?

K: No. The Gods watch over specific regions of Nemai, so an Aerie usually has two to three deities watching over it. However, because of the high death rate, only the ten deities of the Battlefield still have Akush'ai--beyond the teachers, that is. There must be teachers else the Way would die. Still, those are old and not able to help in battle. The other deities are still around, but none have anyone actively swearing fidelity to them.

Q: And what about the rest of the Ki'ir-ar? Do they worship specific deities as well?

K: Well, normally you worship the deities of your Aerie, because those are the ones that affect you the most, discounting the Five whom everyone worships. Still, everyone knows the names of all the Gods, and they're all called upon, even if you aren't an active follower.

Q: Which Gods do you worship?

K: I worship one deity; I am the sole worshiper of Anai, the Destroyer. Which also makes me her Akush'ai, I suppose.

Q: Why does she have only one worshiper?

K: Because she stands for everything that the Ki'ir-ar hate. She destroys. We are sworn not to destroy. Even in war we do not destroy. We are not like the Alliance; if it is at all possible, the Ki'ir-ar prefer to defeat without inflicting harm. Because we are part of the natural world, we wish to preserve the natural world. This is why all of our homes are made of natural materials; it's not because we are incapable of constructing buildings, but because we prefer the natural beauty of the world around us to that of the constructed.

More than that, however, is Anai's attitude toward existence. She is the thrirty-first Goddess, the only one who doesn't fit the mode, doesn't have an appropriate place in the pattern. Because she is so out of sync with the patterns of life and the world, it is understandable that she wishes to ruin it. She fouls the threads that bind us together and weave us into the Great Tapestry. Worse, she profanes the sanctity of battle. It is the belief of the Ki'ir-ar that war is an honorable thing. True, our definition of war is by far and away different than yours, but in the Ki'ir-ar culture war is not about gaining dominance over another, but rather one more test of your skill. Yes, there is blood lust, and yes, there are often dead after our wars, but more often than not the point of our battles are to impress our skill upon our enemies rather than harm them. The best battle is one won without bloodshed, one won by skill alone. It's almost like a great game of tag, where the most courageous and most honorable of warriors can touch their opponent without being touched themselves. Anyone can kill; it takes a truly great warrior to incapacitate with just a touch.

But Anai doesn't believe in such things. She is the Destroyer for a reason; everything she touches becomes fouled, everything she gazes on becomes corrupt. The wars fought in her name are bloodbaths, massacres of innocents and warriors alike. Her path is marked by desolation; by land raped and left barren by her warriors; by disease that wastes away the body in slow agony; by mangled corpses who lie in grotesque death and slowly rot, uncared for and unmourned because all who would weep at their fate are dead as well. She guides the soldiers of the Alliance to our Aeries, lends them her eyes until every shot flies true and hits one of our warriors. She is the only Goddess to desire the annihilation of our race, and has plotted against the Ki'ir-ar since they first stood on two legs and gazed blinking up at the sun. Her purpose is to destroy, and it is only a matter of time before those who worship her are destroyed as well. There is only one Ki'ir-ar who would be foolish enough to tie their soul to hers, to embrace her and welcome her and follow her: the Keith'an-skai. They have nothing left to loose, now, and it is only their hatred sustains them. Not even the Aldersine have sunk so low.

Q: What are the Aldersine? I've heard them mentioned before.

K: They are the Soulless One--well, the true Aldersine are. At least that's how we define them on Nemai. From what I understand of the Outer Settlements, the definition has been...bent a little. Anyway, I suppose that you would call them Berserkers in the common tongue, because they have no fear of dying. They are more...bloodthirsty than the rest of the Kreiger, and posses the powers of the Akush'ai. Aldersine come almost exclusively from the Kreiger clans, usually those who have seen too many battles, or escaped from the Alliance soldiers. But, they are few and far between, thanks to the efforts of the Zhiyu. Still, they are very dangerous. Very, very dangerous. For, because they don't fear death, they don't hesitate to kill. After all, what is Honor to one without a soul?

Q: And who is the Keith'an-skai?

K: He is vengeance. He is hatred. He is loss and pain. He is past the point of the Aldersine, for he lives to wreck vengeance upon those who hurt him. His name means Vengeance Seeker, and he is next to immortal. Being the acolyte of Anai grants this sad being certain powers; he becomes Kreiger, Akush'ai and Zhiyu. He excels at killing, at hurting and at destruction. And he lives until his vengeance is spent, through pain unimaginable and fatal wounds--Death will not visit the Keith'an-skai, Anai makes sure of that.

He is even more dangerous than the Aldersine
because he desires to live. The Aldersine tend to attack without much thought. The Keith'an-skai lives for vengeance, is consumed by vengeance. And so, he attacks with thought, with careful consideration. But he attacks with the same brutality of the Aldersine, fights with the same bloodthirsty flair for death. There is nothing honorable or courageous about the way he fights; he sneaks through the tall grass, swoops down from the trees, ambushes and massacres all those who appear to him as enemies. He does not try to win a battle without bloodshed, he doesn't try to incapacitate without harming, to merely touch rather than killing. No, he fights to kill, fights to drown the land in the blood of his enemies. And he fights so that he may live again, fights so that he may fight tomorrow and the day after and again and again until his vengeance is sated.

Alone, lost, and slowly destroyed, eaten away from within by his tie to the Destroyer, this is the fate of the Keith'an-skai. I should know. He is me.

Chapter Twelve

Date: August 7th, 10039 A.F
Location: Arusian Consulate, 1532 Kissinger St
	  Kulala City, Alliance Island
	  New Earth, Priman quadrant.
Time: 0730 STG

Allura rubbed her hair vigorously, the soft white towel mussing the long golden strands until it was just one tangled mess. She frowned at her reflection in the mirror, disliking the way the mop of hair framed her face. Maybe she should cut the strands shorter--they only seemed to get in the way more and more these days. Besides, what was she keeping her hair long for anyway? It only made her look younger, made people underestimate her.

Oh wait. That's why. Grinning at her tousled reflection, she stuck her tongue out at the mirror, and laughed softly at her childish antics.

"Mmm. I could definitely get used to this." Lotor wrapped his arms around Allura, gently nuzzled the soft skin of her neck. Allura smiled and leaned back into his strong arms. "When will we marry, love?"

"After this. I promise, Lotor."

Lotor nodded and kissed the side of his fiancee's neck, tugged at the large, white towel that was wrapped around her thin form. "I missed you so much, Allura," he whispered into her long, wet hair.

"I missed you too, Seelsorge," Allura murmured, then laughed softly. "But we can't do that right now, love."

"What does that mean, anyway, Allura?" Lotor trailed after the golden haired woman, grabbing her arm and pulling her into a loose embrace. "You keep using it, but you never tell me what it means."

"'Most beloved in my heart' with the connotations that it's a sexual relationship, not a familial one; it's the equivalent of 'promised to each other' as well, I suppose. It's Ki'ir-ar so, of course, a literal translation is going to be hard." Lotor grimaced and pulled away. Allura sighed. "What's wrong?"

"It's not you, love, it's just that--"

"--that I use Ki'ir-ar. That I'm a quarter Ki'ir-ar. Lotor, you couldn't possibly have been more than an adolescent when your father defected from the Alliance. How could you hate them so much?"

"I don't hate them, Allura. I just...don't like it." Lotor ran his hands through his hair, pushing the white locks back. "I just--they're so violent. How can you trust something that might turn on you and rip out your throat as easily as it would shake your hand?"

"Lotor. Your 'its' are my people. You're talking about me." Allura frowned. "I know it's hard. I've seen the propaganda too. But, love, you have to understand. The Alliance took everything they held dear away from them. They destroyed families, enslaved children. Children! If everything you knew was taken, wouldn't you fight back?"

"I know. I know! It's just--Damn it, Allura, I wasn't raised with them!" Lotor's yellow eyes were blazing, suddenly filled with anger as he gave into the tension that ran beneath their banal words, spoke the thoughts that both had struggled to keep hidden from each other. "Gods, I'm trying so hard not to piss you off right now, and I just can't do it! Yes, I think that what the Alliance does is wrong. Yes, stripping the 'humanity' from any sentient being is evil. But, damn it Allura, you can't wage a fucking war against the Alliance. Your father tried that and look where he ended up! Alone, friendless, condemned by the very institute his ancestors founded--all because he was just too damn arrogant. Gods, Allura, I don't want you to die like him, shamed and thrown to the wolves!"

"My father didn't do anything wrong! He was just trying to help his planet! How can you call that wrong? How can you say that he turned against the Alliance?"

"Because, he did. Your father pissed off the Alliance. Arus pissed off the Alliance. Hells, Allura, you're fighting an uphill battle here. You've got to be extremely careful. The Alliance doesn't like Arus. New Earth hates Arus--and New Earth controls everything that the rest of the Alliance thinks or does. You represent a dangerous variable to the Terrans; they won't hesitate to exterminate you."

Allura stalked away, back straight with anger. "How dare you talk to me like that!"

"What, how dare I tell you the truth? You've got to face it some time. You can't keep hiding behind whatever illusions you might have." Lotor rubbed his eyes and sat with a weary sigh. "Look at what happened to you during your fight with Doom. Bhern wouldn't help you and they've been your allies since you sponsored their admission into the Alliance! Hells, the most you got out of them was a promise to take two ships of refugees! New Earth is the uncrowned tyrant of the Alliance; they have enough power to refuse aide to one of the Founders. You can't just waltz in there tomorrow expecting to take your place as primus iner pares. A lot has changed since the last Arusian representative sat in the Council--they hate you, Allura, hate Arus for its apparent superiority. Your civil wars don't matter to your 'allies'; all that matters to these long-memoried bastards is that it looks like Arus washed her hands of the Alliance three thousand years ago and only looks on the rest of the planets with contempt."

"And why are you telling me this, Lotor? Whose side are you on?" Allura glared at her lover, feet planted firmly, body radiating hostility.

"Gods if I know."

"What! You don't know? How can you not know? It's either you're for it, or you're against it." Allura's eyes hardened and she glanced down at Lotor's crotch, which was just in range of her foot. "And I hope for the sake of our future children that you're against it."

"It's not so nicely cut as all that, Allura. I can't be so exact in my views, here! I have slaves! I'm going to keep my slaves. I like having slaves. I don't like what's been done to an apparently sentient race, but Hells if I'm going to be a hypocrite and denounce it off hand!" Lotor glared back, wondering as he had so often before in the midst of their fights, why he chose to tie himself to Allura, why he promised his soul to her, even if she never heard his vow.

"But they're wrong!"

"No, Allura, they just view things differently. Think, Godsdamn it! Use your fucking brain! You can't go in there saying 'stop enslaving the Ki'ir-ar because it's wrong'. You actually have to have a case, or their going to murder you! They may murder you anyway." Lotor's voice dropped as he said the last few words, the truth behind his anger coming through clearly. "Gods, Allura, I'm afraid for you. I so afraid, and I'm so pissed at you that I just--I just can't take it anymore! You're such a fucking idiot!"

"What, for standing up for what I believe in? For not allowing this exploitation to go on any further? For believing in the rights of all Sentient creatures?"

"No, for using all those reasons as a shield for your real reasons. I know that this is all about vengeance. I know, because I know you. I know you better than I know myself and by Haran I'm afraid for you. I'm afraid that you're going to get us all killed and then where will we be?"

"Lotor..." Allura swallowed, reached out a shaking hand, but decided against it and dropped the pale limb back to her side. "Goddess, love, what else am I supposed to do? Yes, maybe I am seeking revenge, but what about it? I'm also fighting for the life of a friend; I'm fighting for the life of an entire, fucking race here!"

"And how do you think Keith justified his actions?" Lotor's yellow eyes pierced Allura and for a long moment the lovers just stared at each other.

It was Allura's eyes that dropped first and she stared down at her hands in silent contemplation. She heard Lotor's sigh, the creak of the bed as he stood, the warmth that radiated from his body as he came up to stand beside her, pale blue hands gently rubbing the chilled flesh of her arms. His voice was low as he spoke, almost contrite, but not quite. "Allura, love, I don't say this to hurt you, but it's really a stupid idea. You mean more to me than anything I've ever known; you are everything to me, though I don't know how this whole thing happened, but you somehow became the center of my world. And may I brave the Nine Levels of Hell before I let you hurt yourself on this Gods-be-damned, stupid crusade."

Allura laughed bitterly. "Mishak son'ryou. Seems as though this is the time for oaths of love; Lance demanded I explain the Ki'ir-ar culture to him. Still, I never would have expected it to occur in a non-Ki'ir-ar; I never expected it to occur in you; but I suppose that it was only natural, since I have been ensnared by it as well."


"Mishak son'ryou. 'Beyond Death, beyond Life, beyond Pain and Joy, Peace and Love, War and Hate, will I forever be by your side'. It's a powerfully binding oath, Lotor. It is one of the three greatest oaths that can be sworn, one of the Unbreakable; any who swear this oath are bound by it until the end of their days. You may never love another, now. You may never leave me, never desert me, just as I can't do such things to you. It is almost a universal oath; even those who are not of Ki'ir-ar blood and swear this oath are forever bound by it. And, I think you may have inadvertently invoked the damn thing."

"Mishak son'ryou..." Lotor tried the words out, rolled his tongue over them, tasted them, grimaced slightly at the ease at which his tongue formed them. "How? How can this be? I've never even heard of the word before! How could I have evoked it, if I never spoke it?"

Allura gave a dark smile. "The soul doesn't care about language, Lotor--by the Abyss, the words are just a formality. You know when you've sworn the oath, even if you've never said the words. Your very thoughts will betray you on this point."

Lotor turned away with a growl, dropped his head into his hands, voice rough edged with his weariness. "Gods. So, what do I do?"

Allura sighed. "Nothing. There is nothing for you to do. There is nothing for either of us to do. All we can do is...exist, together."

Lotor nodded, turned back around, a calculating gleam coming to his eyes. "If you loved me," he began, soft and gentle, "you would call off this crusade."

Allura looked him in the eye. "If you believed in me, you wouldn't let me."


Location: Arusian Consulate
Time: 0730 STG

Lance could see his breath when he entered the darkened room, shivered at the chill that invaded his bones from the first step. How can anyone survive in this cold?

"Who's there?"

"Just me."

Lance slid the door closed and made his way to the table where Keith sat, alone and naked. He was subdued, shoulders rounded and hunched inward, everything about him filled with an aching defeat. There was a weariness that made him seem older than his years, ancient though the flesh that caged his soul was still young. The bloody line on his neck had crusted over, the small nicks on his pale, shaved head standing out starkly in the dark. Lance paused, wondered at how fast the day before had gone.

Was he naked yesterday? Did anyone think to give him clothing? Did anyone think to take care for his wounds? Oh Gods...Keith, I'm so sorry. I should have said something. I can't believe I didn't notice. Have we all become complacent with the knowledge that Keith is a Ki'ir-ar? Have we relegated him to the post of slave, made him invisible to us?

The questions disturbed him and no answer would come. Lance hoped that the answers when they came would be ones he could accept. He prayed that they would be worthy ones rather than selfish rationale that they had been busy, too busy to notice the aches and pains of one who never asked for help, who never wanted help--and yet was the one who needed help the most. He hoped that the answers were pure; but he knew that they were not.

"What do you want, Lance?" Even his voice was subdued, defeated like the rest of him.

Lance moved around to the table, stripped his leather jacket off and tried to place it around Keith's shoulders. His ex-lover twitched away and glared, black eyes piercing even in the gloom and cold. Lance sighed and picked up the jacket, put it down on the table. He sat down in the cold chair opposite and watched Keith, silently willing the other boy to pick up the jacket, to put it on, to hide his naked, pimpled form and get some goddamned warmth back. Keith ignored jacket and just stared back.

"What do you want?" More demanding now. Wary, perhaps.

"To talk." Lance gave up his attempt at telepathically willing Keith to put on the jacket as a lost cause, but left it on the table. "But first...Keith, why are you naked?"

Keith grinned, a sudden mad smile. "Because a'Shteru won't wear Alliance clothing and Allura has yet to find a pair of Kreiger pants for me."

"Okay. That's a good enough answer for me." Lance paused, thanked Sirao for giving him the foresight to grill Allura about the Ki'ir-arni. "Second thing, then. Aren't you freezing? It feels like you've turned the AC to subzero."

The pale flesh gleamed briefly as Keith shrugged. "I don't care. You forget it after awhile. Besides, the anger warms me enough." A sharp grin, more a baring of teeth than anything else. "It's funny that you're keeping me warm again."

"Anything to help." Lance tried to joke but failed. He frowned, suddenly confused. "Tell me, Keith, why did you save me?"

Keith shrugged again. "Seemed right. a'Shteru showed me how to do it, but I don't know what he wants in return. Not yet, anyway." Keith's glare sharpened, suddenly. "Why?"

"Because I thought you hated me." Lance looked down at his hands, ashamed and wondering. "I--I fucked up, and I let you be taken; I saw your face when the MP's were leading you off Keith. It looked like you had just been stabbed through the heart by your best friend."

"I was." Keith's stare was hard, and Lance felt even smaller as the other boy continued to scrutinize him. "Admittedly it was foolish to believe that you would trust me over the MP's--after all, you didn't trust me when we were together, did you?"

"I'm sorry. I thought you were proposing to her." Lance looked up, suddenly filled with an anger. "You were down on one fucking knee, Keith. You even said her fucking name. What was I supposed to think?"

"I don't know!" For the first time since Lance had entered, Keith showed some emotion, showed some life other than the cold, impersonal man who had been responding to his questions. "I thought that maybe, just maybe, you'd fucking trust me!"

"Why should I have? You killed your best friend, Keith. You dodged all my questions if something was wrong, you shut me out. How else was I supposed to react? Gods, Keith, I was already afraid that it--we--were over. Seeing you ask my cousin for her hand in marriage just confirmed my suspicions." Lance sighed, closed his eyes. "How was I supposed to trust you when you didn't trust me?"

"I don't know. Damn it, Lance, you should have told me about this! You should have confided in me! We were supposed to be a couple. We were supposed to be stronger together than apart! We were supposed to be in love!"

"Yeah, well, maybe we were in love. Maybe we were stronger together. But apparently that wasn't strong enough." Lance laughed bitterly. "Sirao, Keith, you made me so insecure. You made me feel small beside you. You made me hate you sometimes, hate you with the same intensity that I loved you. You frightened me. You scared me with the secrets that you kept. I thought you loved me! How can you love me when you won't let me know who you are? Do you have any idea how nerve-racking that is? Do you know what it's like to wonder if the person you love is the real person or just a front? Do you know what it's like to know that even though you're supposed to be in this 'grand, wonderful, eternal love' bull shit you still aren't trusted enough to be told the truth?" He looked down at his hands. "We could have been something great, Keith. We could have been some sort of super team, the Uber-couple. We could have been something; I never thought that we would be nothing."

"Neither did I." For a long silent moment, Keith just stared at Lance, obviously trying to get himself under control. A strange light was glowing in his eyes, and it chilled Lance to see it. It chilled him to see Keith struggle with himself, beat down that strange light until his eyes were the same reflective black as they had always been. He sighed, and for just a second Lance felt like he was watching the other boy's soul leaving his body in that brief puff of white. Keith's skin had taken on a blue-ish tinge, and Lance wondered how he had been sitting here, sitting alone and naked in the dark. "Lance...I want you to leave. Every second that you're near me is one more second that I have to fight even harder for control."

"Control. I should have known." His face twisted into a bitter smile. "It's always about control for you, isn't it, Keith? It's always about perfection. And I wasn't perfect enough, was I?"

"Kami, Lance, you couldn't be more wrong. This isn't about us. This isn't about you leaving me, this isn't about how much I hate you, how much I love you, how much I want you and miss you. This is about him. You are special to me. You are my Tamashii, and he wants to hurt you because of that. Because you're an obstacle." Keith was trembling again and Lance wondered if it was because of the cold in the room or something else. "He wants your blood Lance. And I may not be able to stop him."

"Him? Him who? What're you talking about, Keith?" Lance felt the first stirrings of fear, now, behind that wall of frustration, the hurt and confusion that was being dredged up all over again. There was something wrong here. There was something panicked about Keith, the same panic of a gunshot victim, who wants to tell those around him the truth before the end comes, before he can't tell them anything at all. It chilled him more than the room every could.

"My Tamashii. 'The One who brings light to my darkened soul'. My Savior! My goddamned savior. You saved me, Lance, did you know that? You pulled me out of my darkness." Keith bit back a moan, shuddered as if he was fighting valiantly against some unstoppable force, attempting to defeat the inevitable. "But you have to leave. You have to go away. Because if you don't I'm going to kill you."

"I don't understand, Keith!" Anguish, despair, love, hate, fear, was all running together. "Damn it, Keith, what the hell are you talking about? Tell me! Let me help you!"

"Kami, Lance, it's not easy to explain. I don't expect you to understand. I just want you to leave before I hurt you." The trembling grew stronger and Lance reached out across the table to touch Keith's shoulder, almost hissing in shock as their flesh made contact. He was so cold; so cold that it almost burned, so cold that it felt like touching frozen metal, touching black ice. Keith moaned softly and shivered; he was losing the battle with himself. "Get away! Go away!"

"By Samas' white beard, Keith, what the hell is wrong with you? Why won't you let me help you? Laran! I may not be your favorite person in the world, but I do still love you--Gods I haven't stopped loving you. And as someone who love you, let me get you a doctor. Let me help you. You need help, damn it! Look at you!"

Keith shook his head, kept his eyes down on his clenched hands. "No. Lance, go away."

"No! I'm not leaving you like this! I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to fucking kill yourself, aren't you. You're freezing yourself, you're starving yourself--Gods, Keith, why can't you trust me on this one?" Lance didn't know why he was so angry, didn't know why he spat out the words he said. "Why can't you the weak one for once, why can't you just accept some goddamn help!"

"I--I can't! Oh Gods...Lance, it's like I'm two separate people. I'm going insane, and I can't stop that, can't help myself. And I'm not even me anymore. I'm someone else, and a'Shteru is in here and he's telling me to kill everything in sight, and I can't even trust anything anymore. I can't trust myself, I can't trust my memories, I have no control, here and--Lance, help me, please. Tamashii, I need you, I need you so badly. Lance. Lance..."

And somehow, the anger was thrown away in the burst of blind panic that followed Keith's words and he was around the table, and holding onto Keith even though it hurt so goddamned much because he was so cold and Keith was crying--he was fucking crying!--which was even more frightening than the cold, because Keith never cried, never and it was frightening and exhilarating all at once and suddenly, Lance was so painfully aware of Keith's nakedness and his want, and his need and then--pain.

Intense pain.

Pain as cold arms turned colder, hard muscles became steel, cruel talons hooked themselves into his shirt and a soft, low, mad voice whispered into his ear in a tongue that wasn't Keith, that wasn't anything he'd ever known.

"Ahh. Poor Lance. Always a bleeding heart." And the arms tightened as the harsh words continued in this accented, beautiful, singing voice. "Too bad you didn't leave when he told you to."

"What? Keith--"

"You hurt him, Lance. And, while I do not love this weaker part of myself, I must still protect him. So. You must die. Because then you will stop hurting him. And he will stop resisting. And I will be the only one."


The talons were grazing his skin, now, soft and caressing, little scratches that, had they not been painful, might have actually been arousing. And Lance could think of only one thing--had only one thing--that he could do. Closing his eyes, trying desperately to remember the phrase that Allura had told him earlier when he had been preparing for this confrontation, he brought his lips close to Keith's--a'Shteru's?--ear, whispered soft and full of painful sincerity, "Mishak son'ryou" in halting, stilted words. "Keith, a'Shteru, whoever you are, Mishak son'ryou."

And suddenly, the caresses stopped, the talons were drawn back as if burned by something, and the hard arms released him, and Keith was sitting back, blinking with dazed eyes, as if he had just been slapped. Lance shuddered, torn between wanting to stay and comfort and the selfish will to live.

"Keith?" Hesitant, still full of that panic, but not willing to leave, to let Keith just...rot in this room. Gods, he was torn, anger roiling somewhere deep, and love and hate and fear and panic and desire and everything and nothing dancing about his soul in a confusing, horribly confusing, fashion.

"Leave, Tamashii. Before the reprieve is over." Keith looked up at him, dark eyes like a black abyss that sucked at his soul, but lips twisted in a cruel mockery of a smile. "You've shocked him, Lance. I would have thought it impossible." The madness edged back around the dark wounds, and Lance took a step back, and then another until he was running, fleeing backwards and so ashamed, but oh so very glad when there was light around him, and warmth and life. Beautiful, wonderful life.

How he wished he could put some of this life back into the cold shell that was all that was left of Keith.


The pilot whirled around, a silent snarl forming on his face as he spied Lotor standing with his hand on another door leading out of the large central room of the suite. "Lotor."

"I--I have several things to talk to you about." The grimace on Lotor's face distorted the words slightly.

"About what."

"Several things." Lotor made the first move, striding away from the door to stand before Lance, a hand stretched out in reluctant offering. "Would you do me the...honor of accompanying me to get some breakfast?"

"Why?" Guarded, Lance watched the hand as if it was a viper.

"Because I would," here Lotor's face twisted a little further, mouth souring, "be friends with you."

Lance stared at Lotor incredulously. "Are you serious?" Lotor nodded, reluctantly. "Very well. This could be interesting."

"Good." Lotor spun, quickly, and strode to the door. Lance followed, trying hard not to smirk at the incongruity of his situation.


Location: Cafe Laufer, 1355 Roosevelt St
	  Kulala City, French Quarter
	  Alliance Island, New Earth, Priman quadrant.
Time: 0800 STG.

Lance fiddled with his cup, sending the dark coffee spilling over the edge in an aromatic wave of scalding liquid. It singed the skin on his fingers, but that was better than the cold he had felt with Keith. At least he knew he was alive this way.

"Tell me, Lance, what were you doing in there with Keith?"

Lotor's voice startled Lance out of his reverie and he sharply looked up at the blue-skinned man. "Why should I tell you?"

"You shouldn't." Lotor leaned forward, yellow eyes intensely focused on his companion. "You don't trust me, do you?"

"No. I don't."

"Fine." Lotor leaned back, took a sip from his steaming cup. "Quite frankly I'm not very fond of you, as I'm sure you know. But, I suppose I must make peace with you--with all of you--if I am to marry Allura."

Lance grinned suddenly. "You know, we could just say that we made peace and hate each other in silence."

"Not a bad idea, boy." Lotor smiled back, cool and composed--but that calmness was beginning to crack even as Lance watched until, finally, it broke completely and the arrogant emperor was suddenly nothing more than a worn and weary man whose sad eyes begged forgiveness for crimes that haunted those golden depths. "I'm sorry, Lance. Honestly, I'm sorry for everything I've done to you and your friends. I have done things that I shouldn't have, perpetrated foul crimes and I know I can do nothing to atone for them. Hells, I've done things that make my soul cringe in fear and weep for lost innocence."

"So? Why tell me this? I still hate you, Lotor. I hate you more than words can express, hate you for what you and your father have done to us, to me." Lance laughed, suddenly and softly. "I hate you more than you could possibly imagine and I would love to do nothing more than kill you right now if I could."

"I wish you would, Lance, I wish you would." Lotor sighed and brushed back a strand of his long silvered hair, seeming suddenly to be older than his years, eyes kept on the lined table top. "Gods it would be easier if you did." He looked up suddenly, a briefly anguished grin on his face. "I wouldn't be so lost if I was dead. I wouldn't be so helpless, so alone if I died. I wouldn't have to worry about those who hate my planet, those who hate me, worry what intrigues will affect me, what my status is, who I should befriend and who I should watch for knife between my shoulders. Life would be easier for all if I was dead."

"Stop that." Lance glared at the older man. "Stop talking. Stop making me feel sorry for you. I don't want to feel sorry for you. I want to hate, but damn it, you just won't let me. You've stripped everything else from me; you can't take my hatred as well."

"Forgive me. I didn't realize that my pain angered you so."

"Well it does." Lance sighed. "Why the hell are you telling me this anyway? Shouldn't you be talking to Allura about this? She's the one who has to deal with you everyday." A soft, bitter smirk distorted his otherwise still handsome face. "Let me give you some advice, Lotor. Never keep secrets from the one you love. It only leads to pain and doubt and an end to what might have been. A breakdown in communications means death to any relationship." The smirk disappeared and Lance sighed in sudden heartfelt dejection. "I should know."

"Now you stop it." Lotor's voice cracked across the otherwise still morning air with the sharp crack of a whip. "Stop wallowing in your self-pity. So you fucked up with Keith. So what? You're both still alive. You're both on talking terms. If you love each other, you can patch it up. It is possible to make it work, you know."

"It's not that easy, Lotor," Lance shot back. "Gods, I wish we could go back to like we were but we just have too much history; we have so much anger, I don't think that we can get together, no matter how much I wish we could."

"Bull. Anything is possible if you love someone enough; look at Allura and I." Lotor stared intently at his companion. "Do you love him, Lance?"

"Of course," Lance replied, mildly affronted.

"How much do you love him? Do you love him enough to give up everything for him? Do you love him enough to die for him--or live for him if he asked? Do you love him so much that it hurts when you're apart, that it hurts even more when you're together because you can't believe your good fortune to be able to touch and kiss and caress one so perfect? Does the mere thought of him make you tremble in expectant ecstasy? Do you love him beyond the breadth of your knowledge, beyond the limits of your tongue, beyond the tiny sphere of your soul, love him so much that you can't even begin to describe the depths of your love? Do you love him so much that--" Lotor broke off suddenly and laughed a slight, almost mocking laugh. "Do you love him enough that you would make peace with your enemies just because they were his friends and set aside your prejudices just because he asked it? Do you love him to the point where the only thing that can possibly hope to come near enough to begin to describe what you're feeling is a word from a race you fear and hate and enslave without a second thought?"

"Mishak son'ryou," Lance whispered. "I--I don't know, Lotor. I don't know if that's what I feel."

"You would know, Lance. If that was what you felt, you would know."

Lance sighed, closed his eyes against the sudden pain of tears. "Gods, Lotor, I'm so confused. I--I think I love him like that, think that this is what I feel. When Allura mentioned it this morning, it sounded so right. It sounded like us, like that was what should be used to describe what we have. But to hear you explain it so--I don't know anymore." Lance sighed, shoulders shaking with both laughter and tears. "Gods, I should have asked Allura to describe that more, tell me more about it. She wasn't even serious when she mentioned it--it was just an off-hand comment. Something about love lost and love never found and love everlasting and how she thought that maybe it described us, but could never be since I wasn't Ki'ir-ar and it was so rare. And, of course like the idiot I am, I went and swore it without thinking about what I was swearing. Or even if my oath was true."

"Maybe you haven't. When Allura and I had our...disagreement, she told me it was spoken soul-to-soul, that the words are merely a statement of what is already known." Lotor picked up his drink, took a sip of the tepid liquid, made a face at how cool it had grown and set it back down. "Tell me, Lance, what are your reasons for being in this crusade of Allura's."

"B-because I love Keith," Lance stammered out.

"Are you sure? Are you sure that's the only reason?"

Lance stared at Lotor, wishing so badly that he could hate this man, that he could despise the Doom Emperor who was forcing him to think so, forcing him to question his beliefs, question things that he had though settled and done. Lotor just stared back, apparently unaffected by his companion's sudden inner turmoil. His golden eyes calmly regarded Lance, weighed his companion but passing no judgment--not yet, anyway.

That was how the Alliance Page found them, two men frozen but by two different things. He cleared his throat, high, piping voice loud in the morning stillness, hesitantly approached the table and touched Lotor's elbow. "Excuse me, your Highness, but the Council of Five desires to see you."


"Yes sir."

"Very well." Lotor stood, tossed a couple of credit chits onto the table, the little, grey triangles clinking softly. He rested his hand briefly on Lance's shoulder, caused the other boy to turn and look up at him. "I'm sorry, Lance. But please, consider very carefully your actions. Don't rush into this unless you are sure; it could cost you everything."

Lance nodded slowly, before returning to his brooding contemplation of something that wasn't there.


"...Let me fill these empty spaces
Better late than never
Stay forever..."

-Empty Spaces

Part II
Part IV